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Continuum Studies in Continental Philosophy

Series Editor:James Fieser, University of Tennessee at Martin

Badiou and Derrida, Anthony Calcagno

Deconstruction and Democracy, Alex Thomson
Deleuze and Guattari' s Philosophy ofHistory, J ay Lampert
Deleuze and the M eaning ofLife, Claire Cole brook
Derrida and Disinterest, Sean Gaston
Husserl's Phenomenology, Kevin Hermberg
New Heidegger, Miguel de Beistegui
Sartre' s Ethics ofEngagement, T. Storm Heter
Wittgenstein and Gadamer, Chris Lawn
Deleuze and the Unconscious, Christian Kerslake
Sartre's Phenomenology, David Reisman
I I ~I I~258738!9~I I I I


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© Alastair Morgan 2007

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British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN-l0: HB:0-8264-9613-X
ISBN-13: HB:978-0-8264-9613-3

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Morgan, Alastair.
Adorno's concept of life 1by Alastair Morgan.
p. cm.
1. Adorno, Theodor W., 1903-1969.2. Life. 1. Title.


Typeset by Aarontype Limited, Easton, Bristol

Printed and bound in Great Britain by Biddles Ltd, King's Lynn, Norfolk
For Marion, with love

Acknowledgements IX
Abbreviations X


1 Life-Philosophies 6
Philosophical Antecedents 7
The Idea ofNatural History 13
Life and Self-preservation 17
~ arcissism, Sublimation and the Ego 20

2 Dam.aged Life 24
After Auschwitz 24
Death-in-Life 26
DyingToday 29
Damaged Life 31
Decay of Experience: Erlebnis and Erfahrung 33

3 The Life of Things 39

Bergson and Intuition 40
Husserl: Essence and Appearance 44
Critique ofOntology 47

4 Dialectics and Life 51

The Experience of the Dialectic 51
Mediation 57
Materialism 60
Construction, Interpretation, Expression 62

5 Suffering Life 69
The Addendum 70
Michel Henry: Living is Not Possible in the W orld 73
Levinas: Useless Suffering 75
Suffering Physical 79
Merleau-Ponty: Distanced Nearness and Reversibility 81
VIlI Contents
6 Natural Life 85
Re-enchanting Nature 85
Intellectual Experience 91
Mimesis and Life 94
Shudder 97

7 The Possibility of Living Today 100

Readings of Possi bili ty 101
Metaphysical Experience 105
Redemption and Reconciliation 107

8 Exhausted Life 112

Figures of Exhaustion 112
A Beckett 112
B Proust and Happiness 114
C Kafka and Gesture 116
D Music in the Background 118
E 'Rien faire comme une bête' 119
Dissolution ofSubjectivity 119

Conclusion 124
Adorno Contra Vitalism 125
Speculative Materialism 130
Materialist Metaphysics 133
Adorno and the Concept ofLife 134

Notes 138

Bibliograph)' 152

Index 162

l would like to thank all those members of the Centre for Research in Modern
European Philosophy at Middlesex University, both staff and students, with
whom l have had the good fortune to work in a protracted period ofpart-time
postgraduate study in philosophy.
Particular thanks must go to Peter Osborne, for his critical and supportive
teaching and supervision over many years, and to Peter Hallward who has
offered invaluable support and advice in the genesis and production of this
book. 1 would also like to thank Alex Düttmann for his inspirational teaching
and ideas at an early stage in the formulation of this project, and Stewart
Martin for his careful reading and supportive comments on my work.
The formulation of this project as a book owes a great deal to both the work
and the support ofSimonj arvis, and 1 owe him special thanks for his encourage-
ment throughout this project.
On a personal note, 1 would like to thank my parents for their support. Above
everyone else, 1 owe everything to my wife, Marion, for her continued belief and
support in my work. This book is dedicated to her.

W orks by Adorno

References are given to the original German text in page numbers, followed by
the page numbers from the English translation. Most of the translations cited in
the book are taken directly from the English translations. Where translations
have been amended this is indicated in the endnotes.

AP 'Die Aktualitait der Philosophie' (1996), in Gesammelte Schriften,

Volume l, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag; 'The Actuality of
Philosophy' (1977), translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor, Telos,
no. 31, Spring, 120-33.
AT ..ilsthetische Theorie, Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 7 (1996), Frankfurt
am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag; Aesthetic Theory (1999), translated by
Robert Hullot-Kentor, London: The AthIone Press.
BW Theodor W. Adorno / Walter Benjamin, Briefwechsel1928-1940 (1994),
edited by Henri Lonitz, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag;
Adorno-Benjamin, The Complete Correspondence 1928-1940 (1999),
translated by Nicholas Walker, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer-
sity Press.
DA (written with Max Horkheimer), Dialektik der Aufklarung: Philoso-
Phische Fragmente, Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 3 (1996), Frankfurt am
Main: Suhrkamp Verlag; Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical
Fragments (2002), translated by EdmundJephcott, edited by Gunze-
lin Schmid Noerr, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
DSH D'fei Studien zu Hegel, Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 5 (1996), Frankfurt
am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag; Hegel: Three Studies (1993); translated
by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, Cambridge, MA and London,
England: MIT Press.
INH 'Die Idee der Naturgeschichte', in Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 1
(1996), Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag; 'The Idea of Nat-
uraI History' (1984), translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor, Telos,
no. 60, Summer, 111-25.
Abbreviations Xl

KK Kant's Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, Nachgelassene Schriften, 4 (1995),

Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1995; Kant's Critique of
Pure Reason (2001), edited by Rolf Tiedemann, translated by
Rodney Livingstone, Cambridge, UK: Polit y Press.
ME <ur J.Uetakritik der Erkenntnistheorie, Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 5
(1996), Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag; AgainstEpistemology:
A Metacritique - Studies in Husserl and the Phenomenological Antinomies
(1982), translated by Willis Domingo, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
MM jUinima J.Uoralia, Gesammelte Schriften, volume 4 (1996), Frankfurt am
Main: Suhrkamp Verlag; Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged
Life (1997), translated by E. F. N.Jephcott, London and New York:
ND JVegative Dialektik, Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 6' (1996), Frankfurt
am ~fain: Suhrkamp Verlag; JVegative Dialectics (1966), translated
by E. B. Ashton, London and New York: Routledge, 1966.
NL JVoten;:,ur Literatur, GesammelteSchriften, volume Il (1996), Frankfurt am
Main: Verlag Suhrkamp; JVotes to Literature, Volumes 1 and 2 (1992),
translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, New York: Columbia
University Press.
MBP }4.etaphysik: Begriff und Probleme, Nachgelassene Schriften, 14 (1998),
Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag; jUetaphysics, Concept and
Problems (2000), translated by Edmund J ephcott, edited by Rolf
Tiedemann, Cambridge and Oxford, UK: Polit y Press.
PMP Probleme der .Alloralphilosophie, Nachgelassene Schriften, 10 (2000),
Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag; Problems of Moral Philosophy
(2000), edited by Thomas Schroder, translated by Rodney Living-
stone, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
SO 'Zu Subjekt und Objekt', in Gesammelte Schriften, volume 10.2 (1996),
Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag; 'On Subject and Object'
(1998), in Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, translated by
Henry W. Pickford, New York: Columbia University Press.

To write about the concept of life in Adorno's work seems an intuitively

strange undertaking. Adorno emphatically denied that his philosophy could
ever amount to a first philosophy and repeatedly denounced what he thought
of as the irrationalism of philosophies of life. The very idea of a substantive or
emphatic philosophy of life would be anathema to a philosophy that stresses
anti-systematic and mediated thought as its guiding principle. However, as l
hope to show in this book, the concept of life, and a philosophy that is deeply
concerned with such a concept, is of central importance when trying to under-
stand Adorno's work. This is not to daim that Adorno is constructing a Lebens-
philosophie, in the strong sense of the term, a philosophy which defines life as a
principle and derives all its values from such a principle. However, the general
motives and concerns of such a philosophy are not as distant from Adorno's
work as first appears. The idea of an emphatic life that can escape aIl systematic
designations is a central ethical concern of Adorno's philosophy, even if it is
traced negatively.
This book, therefore, has two main concerns. First, l attempt to trace the dif-
ferent ways that Adorno's thought circles around the concept oflife, and to sug-
gest substantive ways beyond Adorno's strictly negative philosophy when
thinking of the concept oflife. Second, and more ambitiously, l hope that the
argument l present will offer an interpretation of Adorno's critical theory
which can serve as an intervention in the recent debates that have revitalized
philosophical interest in the concept oflife. Specifically, l want to defend Ador-
no's dialectical philosophy as a me ans of articulating a concept of life that
evades either a biological reductionism or the hypostasization oflife as a process
beyond the human that requires the dissolution of the hum an subject.
The methodology ofmy interpretation is to read Adorno in the terms he out-
lined as a correct approach to a philosopher's work, that is, that one 'under-
stands a philosophy by seeking its truth content precisely at the point where
it becomes entangled in so-called contradictions'. 1 The purpose of such a her-
meneutic is Ilot to dissolve the contradictions into a spurious analytic darity,
but to reflect upon the immanent necessity for such contradictions, and the
experience they express of an attempt to grasp truth as a movement within
a specific social form oflife. The concept oflife figures in Adorno's philosophy
as antagonist, ideological consolation, but also as an ethical demand for the
possibility of a different way of living, a possibility that is foreclosed in every
2 Adorno's Concept ofLijè
direction in contemporary capitalist society, and that has become blurred
with the vital processes oflife becoming increasingly the mechanisms through
which capitalism produces and reproduces forms oflife.
The epigraph that Adorno uses on the front page of Minima Moralia from Fer-
dinand Kürnberger is 'Life does not live'. What is this 'life' that 'does not live'?
There are two problems contained within this paradoxical sentence. First, there
is the problem ofhow to give an account ofthis deadened form oflife. How can
we characterize such a life that does not live, what are its features, and what has
brought life to this situation? Is this a permanent form oflife or a crisis in experi-
ence that relates to particular historical events?
The second problem is whether we need an ontological concept of life to
delineate the features of a damaged form oflife. Implicit in the phrase 'life does
not live' is the assumption that the verb 'to live' implies a fuller sense of life
which either lies repressed beneath the existence of a life that does not live, or
as a suppressed possibility within this deadened form of existence. The philoso-
phical concept of life that underpins a statement such as 'life does not live'
needs to be clarified. Is this an ontological concept oflife as a fundamental pre-
predicative mode ofhumans relating to the world which has been eroded and
suppressed through forms ofsociety and cognition that only prioritize subsump-
tive predicative forms of judgement and knowledge? This argument would
postula te a mode of living more fundamental than the dominant modes of
relating and experiencing in modern societies. The problem with such a concept
oflife is that it presumes a 'natural' mode ofliving, unchanged and unaffected
1 argue that a concept oflife as embodied subjectivity functions within Ador-
no's work, but is not clearly delineated, because ofhis argument that there can
be no account given of a fulfilled experience from the position of damaged life
itself. In the first chapter 1 trace this account oflife initially through an account
of the critique and the survival of a residue of Lebensphilosophie within Adorno's
work, and a tracing of Adorno's formative philosophical work, which con-
cerned a defence ofneo-Kantian transcendental philosophy against Husserlian
phenomenology and what Adorno termed irrationalist philosophies of life.
Then 1 focus on Adorno's early consistent statement of his philosophical pro-
gramme in the essay on 'The Idea ofN atural History', which contains the meth-
odological core of Adorno's dialectical thinking of the relation between nature
and history. The essay also initiates an immanent problematic within Adorno's
work as to the nature of objectivity itself, and the relation of an interpretive phi-
losophy to objectivity. The question raised is whether the interpretation of
objectivity serves to defeat reification by uncovering the social forces sedimen-
ted in objectivity alone, or whether there is also a moment within objectivity
representative of the natural, of a life itself which escapes any human designa-
tion. The final section of the opening chapter focuses upon Adorno's mature
appropriation and critique of Freud and Nietzsche.
In chapter 2, I explore the concept of damaged life that Adorno outlines
in relation to Auschwitz and the decay of experience in modernity. Adorno's
Introduction 3
philosophical method in terms ofboth constructing and denying a univers al his-
tory is the central theme for this chapter. l want to take seriously the thought
that Auschwitz reveals a certain form of death-in-life which then compromises
an life and experience afterwards, but l also want to deny this as a univers al
history that culminates in catastrophe. Thinking Auschwitz means thinking
this event as the revelation of a certain new depth that life can plunge into, but
not reifying it as culmination of history. l use Giorgio Agamben's concept of
bare life, and his account of the experience of survival to give meaning to the
indetermination of life and death in the subject, to what a 'life that does not
live' may mean in terms of its concrete historical incarnation, an incarnation
that Agamben discusses with reference to the life in the Nazi extermination
camps. Agamben's concept ofbare life is outlined as not a naturalistic ground
but a description of the production of a form oflife as an empty space, an inde-
termination between life and death. This concept of bare life is related to the
concept of the specimen that Adorno and Horkheimer develop in Dialectic of
Enlightenment, and Adorno further develops through his analysis of death in
,lVegative Dialectics. However, this stillleaves the question as to what is extirpated
in the human being by Auschwitz, in this extirpation of the non-identical, this
reduction of the individual to a specimen. l consider the account of the decay of
experience that Adorno gives, and outlines as a damaged form oflife, and finally
try to speculate what it would mean for experience not to be damaged, what it
would mean to have an experience in an emphatic sense.
The third chapter considers Adorno's critique of ontology, particularly his
critique of Heidegger and Husserl's phenomenology. Adorno's critique ofphe-
nomenology often disguises a closeness in many of the fundamental concerns of
his philosophy with phenomenology. For example, the demand for a return to
the 'things themselves' is a slogan that could serve just as weIl for Adorno's nega-
tive dialectics as it does for phenomenology. However, Adorno's critique ofphe-
nomenology is that as a philosophical methodology it is redundant in its
attempt to testify to an experience of objectivity, and, furthermore it betrays
this central need of its own philosophy and reverts to various forms of idealism.
However, within Adorno's critique of Bergson, Husserl and Heidegger, there
are several gaps and moments when Adorno is attempting to articulate an
experience of something which is immediate, yet non-identical. This moment
ofimmediacy that figures as a demand on conceptual thought is a central unre-
solved problem which lies beneath Adorno's critique of intuition, essence and
Being. In the fourth chapter, l consider Adorno's own dialectical methodology
and materialist philosophy and how it relates to his attempt to express that
which is inexpressible within philosophy, the non-identical. Interestingly, it is
in the methodology ofa negative dialectics that many of the concepts of Lebens-
philosophie reappear, albeit in a difrerent guise (1 am thinking particularly of
concepts of form and expression). Examining Adorno's negative diaiecticai
methodology leaves us at an impasse with regards to the concept of life. The
attempt to model the object through a constellation of concepts in order to
unseai and free its non-identity, requires a mode of comportment, of what
4 Adorno's Concept ofLife
Adorno terms 'distanced nearness'. This mode of comportment is both und er-
theorized in Adorno's philosophy, and under threat from the general decay of
experience that we will analyse in the second chapter. It is in the category ofa
suffering life that Adorno attempts to describe an experience that is both
immediate and non-identical to abstract, conceptual thinking. However, this
category is only gesturally developed within his philosophy. In chapter 5, l sup-
plement Adorno's account ofsuffering with readings from key phenomenologi-
cal thinkers, in order to try and trace an account ofhow we can understand this
'mimetic comportment' towards the non-identical, in terms of an involuntary
responsivity towards suffering. The interesting problem here is to give an
account of suffering which enables a basis and a demand for an ethical respon-
siveness towards that which is other to conceptual thought, but, at the same
time, needs to respond to suffering as an evil, as the possibility of the destruction
of the human. l interrogate the category ofsuffering through an interpretation
of Michel Henry and Emmanuel Levinas' writings on the subject, and trace
their account of the experience of suffering as an experience without divide,
that is fundamentally uncertain, that both demands an ethical response, but
also leaves no ground within the dissolution of the subject for any place for
such an ethical response. This is one form of trying to think of an ineliminable
material moment within conceptual thought. Another centrally important way
ofunderstanding the material moment within conceptuality has been recently
theorized by J. M. Bernstein in relation to a material moment immanent within
conceptuality, and related to notions of a re-enchantment and awakening of
different fonns of conceptuality and rationality.
In chapter 6, l consider this account of a naturallife and argue that Adorno's
project in terms of thinking the non-identical cannot be conceived as a re-
enchantment of nature. First, because the very idea of either a re-enchantment
or an intrinsic meaning to nature or life in itself makes no sense, and, second,
because the account of Adorno's philosophy as a philosophy of re-enchanting
nature ultimately describes that philosophy as one which relies upon a 'state of
nature', which would make aIl of Adorno's fulminations against prima philoso-
phia incoherent. However, there must be sorne description of a fundamental
affective form ofbeing in the world that can move beyond the reified context.
This account must be both speculative and linked to a possibility that always
exists, although suppressed within capitalist forms oflife. l explore this in rela-
tion to the concept ofmimesis, and Adorno's account ofmimetic comportment,
which leads us to an investigation into what the speculative possibility of life
means in Adorno's work.
Chapter 7 analyses the relation between the possibility of living and the
concept of metaphysical experience. In this chapter l conjoin Adorno's critique
of damaged life, with my attempt to reconstruct a concept oflife as a mime tic
comportment of humans to objectivity, and pose the question of how such
a comportment is possible given the tendency towards total reification in con-
temporary life. l analyse Adorno's concept of a negative redemptive moment
of breakthrough as an opening towards a changed concept of reconciliation.
Introduction 5

Adorno's account of embodied experience functions as a model of fulfilled

experience. Such a model of fulfilled experience, though, is fundamentally
unfulfilled, in that it changes the very concept offulfilment. Thus, the central
importance of the changed concept of reconciliation within Adorno's work, a
concept ofreconciliation which emphasizes error, exaggeration and exhaustion
as marks of experience which open the subject to a life lived in fundamentally
different ways than are possible within the context ofidentity thinking. Ador-
no's reading ofAristotle in the posthumously published lectures on metaphysics
illumina tes the relation between possibility and actuality. The possibility of
living is the possibility of an experience of life, that nevertheless, given the
reified whole, exists in a space between possibility and actuality. This leads to
an outline of a speculative experience of the possibility of living that occurs
through an exhaustion of subjectivity within reified life which forms the basis
of chapter 8. Importantly though, this exhaustion is not a complete dissolu-
tion of the subject, but reveals the possibility ofsuffering and the fallibility of the
subject, which can negatively image a different form of life. The problem for
Adorno is how such a dissolution of the subject can still be a self-relinquishment
rather than a complete annihilation. Without a concept oflife beyond a process
of dissolution, for the subject to be dissolved into, is there not a danger that such
a process of self-relinquishment leaves us with just a nothingness at the end of
this dissolution of subjectivity? This rais es the question of whether Adorno's
thought can rest at a form ofspeculative materialism, or needs to be supplemen-
ted with a materialist metaphysics.
In the conclusion l consider this question in relation to the concept of vital-
ism, and, particularly, in relation to the proliferation of vitalist ontologies in
contemporary philosophy. Adorno's critique of both vitalism and of ontology
is in danger ofbecoming redundant, due to both changes in explanatory frame-
works within the life sciences (the move from mechanistic reductive frameworks
to theories of complexity) , and in the developments of ontologies of originary
differentiation. However, l defend Adorno's concept ofspeculative materialism
as even more relevant given the increasing commodification oflife itself, along-
side the indeterminate demand for the submission to a process ofbecoming that
is beyond or beneath the human.
Chapter l


What does Adorno mean by his use of the concept of lifè? Simon Jarvis has
pointed out the difficulties inherent in Adorno's thinking about a concept of
life: 'The difficulties incident to any attempt to articulate the bare idea of "life
without domination", let alone, "life without self-preservation" are obvious ...
Adorno's materialism is deeply aporetic'. 1 Jarvis is clearly correct in his
comment, but that does not mean that a reflection on Adorno's use of a con-
cept oflife, however deliberately diffuse and gestural it may be, cannot serve as
an important figure through which we can interrogate his work as a whole.
ln fact, there is a striking thematic continuity in Adorno's work that expresses a
deep concern with the immanent contradictions of a philosophy of life.
Throughout his writings, from the very earliest doctoral dissertation onwards,
Adorno wrestles with the problems of a critique of the philosophies oflife, vital-
ism or intuition. On the one hand, Adorno is ad amant that any attempt to
ground philosophy foundationally upon either an absolute principle of life, or
on originary concepts of intuition or Erlebnis (lived experience), fundamentally
creates an impassable gulf between conceptual discursive knowledge and an
intuitive originary awareness of life. This gulf, though, represents, a need
within society itself. The attempt to find foundational grounds in intuitive
awareness or an overarching principle oflife, ideologically represents the lack
ofrationality within capitalist society itself. Therefore, the critique ofphiloso-
phies that base themselves on principles oflife or originary pre-reflective aware-
ness (vitalism, phenomenology and to sorne extent psychoanalysis) serves the
purposes ofboth a philosophical and social critique. There are no resources for
a critical philosophy within an account ofknowledge based on a pre-reflective
intuitive originary awareness oflife, and the attempt to produce such grounds
philosophically has catastrophic social consequences. The elevation oflife as a
principle beneath and beyond history, or as a fundamental form ofhuman relat-
ing to the world, leaves no resources for thinking the political usage ofsuch con-
cepts. The association of life-philosophy with a glorification of the war
experience in the First World War, and then, the assumption by Nazism ofsev-
eral tropes oflife-philosophy (an emphasis on life-forces, the biologism of race,
the emphasis on health decay and growth as an understanding of history)
demonstrates the dangers of a non-historical philosophy oflife when it interacts
with the political terrain. Therefore, the dominant mode of Adorno's approach
to Lebensphilosophie, and to philosophies of life, in general. is that of a constant
and unwavering critique.
Life -Philosophies 7
However, this critique is motivated by a closeness of thematic concerns in
Adorno's philosophy with Lebensphilosophie (as exemplified in Dilthey and Sim-
mel's work), with the life-philosophy of the nineteenth century (particularly
Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, but also, Bergson), with psychoanalysis and,
finally, with phenomenology. Adorno's aim to articulate a philosophy which,
within the conceptual framework of epistemology, takes an axial turn towards
the object as non-identical with conceptuality, shares a central experience with
these four distinct, but interrelated, philosophies oflife. This experience can be
weIl summed up by the Husserlian slogan of'to the things themselves'. l t is this
attempt to construct a philosophy that will enable objects to enter thought
without being dominated and subsumed by conceptuality, that is the other
side of the coin, when Adorno deals with the philosophy oflife. The need for a
critique of philosophies oflife is so strong and continuous throughout Adornd s
work because of the very closeness of the motive forces of these philosophies.
In this chapter l will analyse the question of a philosophical definition oflife
in Adorno's work. My aim is to elucidate the paradoxical statement that
'life does not live', and to outline sorne of the routes beyond this paradox
that might outline new forms of experience. l will concentrate in this opening
chapter on Adorno's relation to three of the life-philosophies that l have out-
lined above; Adorno's critique of and relation to phenomenology is the basis of
chapters 3 and 4. First l will examine the relation between Adorno's philosophy
and Lebensphilosophie, a relation that is not overtly explicit in Adorno's work, but
that is definitive for his philosophical formation and has continuaI and impor-
tant conceptual resonances throughout his work. Second, l will give an analysis
of Adorno's important and seminal early essay 'The Idea of N atural History',
which is the location where he attempts to grapple with many of the problems
of the relation between a life-philosophy, however construed, and a criticaI
thinking which can release the object as non-identical within the discursive
parameters of conceptual thought. Third, l will explore the appropriation
and critique ofNietzsche's life-philosophy within Adorno's mature works, and
finally l give an outline of Adorno's use and critique ofFreudian concepts.

Philosophical Antecedents

Before engaging with the central problem of the concept of life in Adorno's
work, it will be useful to outline the history of Lebensphilosophie in terms of its
relevance for his writing. Herbert Schnadelbach has identified three variants
of life-philosophy: metaphysical life-philosophy, life-philosophy as philos-
ophy of history, and ethical Iife-philosophy.2 Rather th an describing these as
types of life-philosophy, it would be more accurate to describe them as ele-
ments within life-philosophy, elements that are then given different emphases
in different life-philosophies.
The first and most important element of life-philosophy is a 'metaphysical
life-philosophy', which is characterized by a reliance on a motive principle
8 Adorno's Concept ofLife
oflife beyond and beneath human consciousness, a primary vitalistic principle
that underlies aU history and consciousness. Bergson's élan vital is given as an
example by Schnadelbach. Other examples ofsuch a metaphysical principle of
life could be found in the work of Ludwig Klages, who identified a strict separa-
tion between soul and body, and emphasized a collective unconscious life as a
principle that could only be recovered in a non-conceptual form. 3 However,
such a metaphysicallife-philosophy also had its variant within a philosophy of
consciousness. One could argue that, to different degrees, both Bergson and
Klages, emphasized a metaphysics oflife beyond the human that could only be
grasped in the dissolution ofhuman consciousness, in a philosophical intuition
or a collective unconscious. However, the life-philosophy of Dilthey, Simmel
and the early Lukacs, relied on a philosophy oflife as a pre-reflective experience
of consciousness which is somehow prior to or dominated by conceptual, reflec-
tive thought. What both the metaphysical vitalist philosophies and the more
hermeneutic life-philosophies share is a basic dualism. Life as something sepa-
rate from conceptual thinking, constantly overflows conceptual forms, and is, in
turn, suppressed and dominated by conceptual, positivistic ways of eXplaining
the world. The fundamental dichotomy between Form and Life is a central con-
sideration and preoccupation of these philosophies. This preoccupation, is, of
course, as old as Aristotle's De Anima, where the concern is with the relation
of matter to Life as a principle. What it is about a certain conglomeration of
matter, that animates it, that makes it living, is the question that is posed in
De Anima. Aristotle's answer lies in an account oflife as a principle which con-
joins matter in a certain harmonious form, although the account of the relation
ofLife (or soul), Form and matter in De Anima is incredibly opaque and open to
interpretation, and revolves around the concept of hypokeimenon (substance)
which 1 will return to later in this book. 4 The relation of form and content
within life-philosophy in its metaphysical guise takes two different strands,
depending upon wh ether the emphasis is on a life-philosophy that relies upon a
vitalism of nature beyond consciousness, or a life-philosophy that emphasizes
a philosophy of life as the relation of consciousness to nature. One could term
these as either a materialist metaphysics or a speculative materialism. What
both share are accounts ofvarious ways in which form, particularly the forms
of conceptual thought, cultural form, and subjective formation, suppress, dom-
inate or reify life itself. Where these philosophies differ is in their emphasis upon
an attempt to find a form which could respond adequately to life or to give an
expression to life. This introduces another central concept of life-philosophy:
that of expression. The need to give expression to the life of things is a need
immanent to alllife-philosophies, but this need can either take place through
the dissolution of existing forms, or through the attempt to try and provide
appropriate historical and cultural forms for such an expression. A vitalist
metaphysics oflife tends towards an emphasis on a dissolution of aIl forms into
the general becoming oflife itself, whereas a metaphysical philosophy oflife that
stresses the relation oflife to human consciousness sees its task as the search for
an appropriate form that can enable the expression oflife. This metaphysical
Life -Philosophies 9

life-philosophy is th en common to most life-philosophies ra ther than a strict and

separate element of a life-philosophy.
The second element of life-philosophy that Schnadelbach mentions is life-
philosophy as a philosophy ofhistory, exemplified in Oswald Spengler's philo-
sophy of history, which identifies the growth and decay of historical cultures
and forms oflife, in a direct comparison with the growth and decay of organ-
isms. Spengler explains the historical dynamic through the unfolding of living
forms within history, ofwhat Adorno terms, in his essay on Spengler, the 'meta-
physics of a collective soul which develops and dies like a plant'. 5 For Spengler,
culture and history become the unfolding of a living form, the graduaI expres-
sion of the growth and decay offorces oflife. Adorno criticizes this reification of
history into a process of the unfoiding oflife as a paradoxical enterprise in which
the 'world seems to grow organically out of the substance of a souilike a plant
from a seed'. 6 The dangers of such a life-philosophy lie in its identification of
concepts ofbiological growth, health and decay with an unmediated manifesta-
tion in historical and cultural form. Spienger's philosophy thus coHapses any
distinction between culture and nature in a fateful identification of the processes
oflife with those of a politics that emphasizes growth, vigour and the healthy.
The move from such a philosophy to the concepts of race and Social Darwinism
intrinsic to National Socialist ideology is obvious. However, despite his critique
of Spengler's life-philosophy, Adorno will attempt to reverse the Spenglerian
diagnosis dialectically through an emphasis on the possibilities and forces
released in the process of decay themselves. Therefore, Adorno will attempt to
negate such a philosophy, and yet recover sorne of its resources through his
account of the decay of experience, which I will examine further in the next
chapter. In this account of the decay of experience, Adorno will turn a life-
philosophy as philosophy ofhistory against itself, as he argues in the following
conclusion to his essay on Spengler:
Spengler's hunter's eye, which mercilessly scrutinizes the cities ofmankind as
though they were the wilderness they really are, overlooks one thing - the
forces released by decay. 'Wie scheint doch alles werdende so krank' ('How
sick seems aIl becoming') Georg Trakl's line transcends Spengler's land-
scape. In a world of brutal and oppressed life, decadence becomes the refuge
of a potentiall y better life ... 7
The final element of life-philosophy identified by Schnadelbach is ethical
life-philosophy, a philosophy which identifies a normativity in the contrast
between aIl that is living and aH that is dead. Life as an underlying and, in
sorne sense, indefinable principle becomes the grounding for aH values and
norms. Schnadelbach refers to Nietzsche in this context, as the promulgator of
a philosophy in which aIl values are overturned on the basis of a loosely and
ill-defined concept of life and the living. However, as we will see, Nietzsche's
relation to the concept of life is more ambivalent than this, and Adorno's
appropriation and critique of Nietzsche is centrally conducted through the
concept oflife.
10 Adorno's Concept ofLife
Therefore, philosophies oflife broadly shared a concern with a delineation of
(often configured as a return to) the full experiential richness oflife in opposi-
tion to technologie al, schematized modes ofhuman thought. This occasionally
accompanied forms of vitalism that verge on mystic irrational thought about
the foundational psychic energy oflife, but also emphasized a concrete thinking
in terms of starting from human experience itself. There was a fundamental
division in terms ofwhether the life that was being considered was human life
or life in itself. For example, Bergson, and in a different way Nietzsche, were
particularly concerned with life, and the forces of life itself, in how they struc-
tured human existence and produced new forms of existence regardless of
human agency. Dilthey was more concerned with the interpretation ofhuman
forms of experience through the construction of a philosophy ofinterpretation
which did not suppress the living material at hand but philosophized from
experience itself. vVhat these writers shared was a critique of experience in mod-
ernity and a concern with a thinking about life as something that has been sup-
pressed by modern forms ofthought and modes ofunderstanding. However, this
return to life was not only conceived in essentialist terms but, for Nietzsche,
Bergson and later Freud, in terms of a primary dynamism which was productive
in itself and adapted and changed in accordance with history. For Dilthey, a
philosophy of life meant a return to history and a dispensing with absolute
knowledge for a temporal understanding of human experience. He conceived
this as a new beginning for philosophy:

The fundamental idea of my philosophy is that no one, so far, has based his
philosophising on the full, unmutilated whole of experience, and so on the
whole fullness of reality. Speculation is certainly abstract ... but empiricism
is no less so. It bases itself on mutilated experience, distorted from the outset
by an atomistic theoretical view of mentallife ... no complete human being
can be confined within this experience. 8

Dilthey is important for his linking of a philosophy oflife with a philosophy of

experience. For Dilthey, this relation is explicit through his use of the word
Erlebnis, which as a singular noun was hardly known in German before his
work, although Goethe used the tenn Erlebnisse. 9 For Dilthey an experience
described in terms of Erlebnis is something primary and prior to any division of
subject and object, and serves as both a synthesis of past and present and a
reaching out to the future. It is something that is intrinsically a temporal experi-
ence and can only be understood through historical thought. It is interesting
that Adorno and Benjamin use the term Erfahrung rather than Erlebnis, and
Benjamin has a specifie distinction between Erlebnis and Erfahrung in his account
of modernity. Diltheyan experience is not something that Adorno will want
to appropriate, as it is more akin to the experience that Heidegger develops
in Being and Time, in its reliance on a temporalizing projection and a unit y
prior to any subject-object diflèrentiation. However, the linkage between a
Life -Philosophies Il
philosophy of life and a philosophy of experience do es become important in
A1inima A10ralia particularly and Adorno's works generaIly.
This introduction has served to show the associations of a philosophy of life
which would have been uppermost in Adorno's mind when he writes that:
'What the philosophers once knew as life has become the sphere ofprivate exis-
tence and now ofmere consumption, dragged along as an appendage of the pro-
cess ofmaterial production, without autonomy or substance ofits own. dO The
life-philosophy delineated in this introduction deeply influenced both the devel-
opme nt of Husserlian phenomenology and Freudian psychoanalysis, which
separately form the subject of Adorno's doctoral thesis of 1924 on the 'Trans-
cendence ofthings and of the Noematic in Husserl's phenomenology', and his
original Habilitation thesis on 'The Concept of the UnconscÎous in the Transcen-
dental Doctrine of the Soul' ~ published three years later. Both works are written
within the framework of the neo-Kantianism espoused by his teacher, Hans
Cornelius. In the doctoral thesis, Adorno attempts a critique of Husserl's con-
cept of the noematic, the object as it appears to consciousness, through a reli-
ance on a transcendent al Kantian philosophy which emphasizes the object as
constructed both empiricaIly and ideally, through a law-giving connection of
appearances. Adorno's early project is the distinction of a correct, Kantian
transcendental philosophy from a Husserlian transcendent al project which
oscillates between the idea of the constitution of objects as given in intuition,
or as absolutely transcendent to consciousness. The main target of Adorno's cri-
tique is the Husserlian concept of an evidencing intuition which can serve as the
basis for the consti tu tion of 0 bjecti vi ty, w hich he opposes wi th a form ofKantian
transcendent al idealism, which emphasizes the given as already appearing
under the laws of cognitive judgements.
In his original Habilitation thesis, Adorno argues for an interpretation of the
Freudian unconscious, which will differentiate it from pre-Freudian uses of
the term as a form ofirrational motive force in both German Romanticism and
in the life-philosophies of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Bergson. In this idio-
syncratic reading of Freudian theory, the unconscious within psychoanalysis,
as a structured and mediated form of what is not present in consciousness,
serves as a bulwark against the irrationalism of previous life-philosophies. The
unconscious is allied to a transcendent al form of Kantianism, in which it refers
to aIl that is not existent in a present perception, but must exist as the law-like
appearance of phenomena. Freudian psychoanalysis is th us interpreted as an
epistemology which can account for that which escapes thought in experience
as the very necessary presupposing conditions of thought itself. Importantly,
and in a rather odd reading, psychoanalysis serves as a bulwark against the
irrationalism of life-philosophies, as Adorno writes, of psychoanalysis, that
it is: ' ... a sharp weapon against every attempt to create a metaphysics of the
instincts, and to deify dull, organic nature'. Il As Andrew Bowie has pointed
out, these early works outline a fundamental problem for Adorno of attempt-
ing to chart a course between a fidelity to forms of thought which undermine
12 Adorno's Concept ofLijè
foundationalist and absolute forms ofphilosophizing, whilst eschewing what he
would consider the irrationalist components ofvitalism. 12 However, the tension
between a transcendental philosophy which then reverts to a philosophical ide-
alism in its critique oflife-philosophies and irrationalism is too great to retain a
hold on Adorno's mature thinking. Although he retains throughout his work
the importance of an emphasis upon the mediated, reflective nature of aU
experience, an emphasis that derives from the neo-Kantian milieu, the idea
that phenomena must truly come to knowledge in consciousness, through their
subsumption under the laws of reason, cornes to be interpreted by Adorno as a
form of domination itself.
In his early mature philosophical works, Adorno outlines a concept of philo-
sophical interpretation that is opposed to that ofDilthey and the hermeneutics
that grew from Dilthey's work, in that philosophical interpretation, for Adorno,
is not concerned with the recuperation of an intentional meaning, but the reve-
lation of the historical and political bases of philosophical problems, so that a
dialectic of nature and history can reveal, through a constellation of different
sources and contents, both a temporal truth and the dissolution of any funda-
mental or absolute basis for that truth. In 'The Actuality of Philosophy',
Adorno writes ofinterpretation in the foUowing way:
... the idea ofphilosophical interpretation does not shy away from the liqui-
dation ofphilosophy, which appears to me to be signalled by the collapse of
the last philosophical claims to totality. For the strict exclusion ofall ontolo-
gical questions in the received sense, the avoidance of invariable univers al
concepts - including, for example, tha t of man - the exclusion of every idea
of a self-sufficient totality of mind, including of a self-enclosed 'Geistes-
gesehiehte'; the concentration of philosophical questions on concrete histori-
cally immanent complexes from which they should not be separated: these
postulates become very similar to a dissolution of what has up to now been
called philosophy.13
Adorno here lin es up with what Hannah Arendt has termed the 'rebellion
of the philosophers against philosophy' which she ascribes to the triumvirate of
life-philosophers Nietzsche, Bergson and Marx, in The Human Condition. 14 In this
inaugural lecture, Adorno departs from any form of stand point philosophy or
any transcendent al grounding for a project of philosophical critique. Deeply
influenced by Walter Benjamin's account of a philosophical method, given in
the 'Epistemo-Critical Prologue' to his book The Origin ofGerman Tragie Drama,
Adorno articulates a philosophy of interpretation which focuses upon particu-
lar aspects of social reality to form configurations which can then express an
enigmatic, and intentionless truth, a reflection back upon the social world that
has produced them.
It is in his early essay, 'The Idea ofNatural History', that Adorno attempts to
formulate a mature critique of foundationalist philosophy alongside both the
explicit disavowal of any transcendental standpoint, and an important empha-
sis upon the social construction ofknowledge and experience itself.
Life -Philosophies 13

The Idea ofNatural History

'The Idea of Natural History' is an early text and sorne ofits daims would be
revised by Adorno, although not explicitly, but rather in a shift oflanguage. For
example, Adorno talks unabashedly ofhis aim being to 'dialectically overcome
the usual antithesis of nature and history', a form of language redolent with a
Hegelian notion of sublation that the later negative dialectician would specifi-
cally disavow. 15 However, this is a foundational text for two reasons. First,
because Adorno is setting out in a programma tic way his thinking on the con-
ceptual pair nature-history, which will continue to be formulated through his
writings on poli tics, aesthetics, epistemology and metaphysics. Second, it is one
of the few places in his writing that he engages with the project of ontology in a
spirit that is not overtly polemical. The first section of Negative Dialectics and The
Jargon ofAuthenticity are both marked by a tone of anger and a poli tic al desire to
distance himselffrom the work of Heidegger, which is not present in 'The Idea
ofNatural History'. In fact, the essay stakes out a position, which has a certain
sympathy with ontology, but then withdraws from this dialectically.
Adorno grounds his enquiry in the following way:

l wou Id like to develop what 1 call the idea ofnatural-history on the basis of
an analysis, or more correctly, an overview of the question of ontology within
the current debate. This requires beginning with 'the natural'. For the ques-
tion of ontology, as it is formulated at present, is none other than what l mean
by 'nature' .16

Adorno provides a survey of ontological thought prior to Heidegger, and then

specifically criticizes the Heideggerian project in Being and Time. He sets out the
ontological critique of radically historical thought, a critique that he says has
dominated the 'Frankfurt discussions'. This critique argues that any radical his-
torical thought which concerns itself with a content which exclusively relates
itself to historical conditions alone will have to account for how history is pre-
given as a structure of being. This is dearly a critique that Adorno takes ser-
iously, and it is this critique that is at stake in the essay, and particularly at
stake in the ide a of nature. However, he is ad amant that the Heideggerian con-
cept of historicity will not serve the purpose of grounding history; whereas the
ontological critique has power for Adorno, its solution isjust another version of
idealism. Historicity is idealist for two reasons. First, particularities are related
to a structural whole. A structural whole may not be a systematic whole, but it is
still idealistic in its basic core beliefthat the existing can be known and incorpo-
rated by the one who constructs the structural whole. Adorno considers the
objection that phenomenology would argue that it is not rationalistic, but con-
cerned with the category of'life', but dismisses this as still idealism in terms of an
idealistic irrationalism. The path to a concept of 'life' still go es through trans-
cendental subjectivity, even ifthat is reified into the grand themes ofhistoricity
or Being. The attempt to grasp the historical being of Dasein as a structural
14 Adorno's Concept of Life
whole in terms ofits being-in-the-world, or its relation to the meaning ofBeing,
privileges a structural whole which ignores the particularity of real, historical
existence. The unit y of subject and object in Heidegger's work as either a foun-
dational ontology ofbeing-in-the-world, or an ontology of the relation ofbeings
to Being, is a posited identity rather than an achieved entity. There is no content
that can be given in historical terms to either the prepredicative world ofbeing-
in -the-world or the question of the relation of beings to the meaning of Being.
There is a tension in Heidegger's work between an interpretation of concrete
human existence and its core structure or modes. Heidegger's attention to a
phenomenological description is a hermeneutic based upon uncovering formaI
and core components of a hum an existence which are not historical in the sense
ofbeing constructed by history and culture. This is only an initial phase in an
attempt to think history as historicity, as the way in which hum ans can trans-
cend their historical being and grasp historical reality itself. Adorno attempts to
respond to the dual problem of historicity, of how you can ground historical
being in terrns of the natural, and how a transcendence and grasping ofhistor-
ical being as historical being can take place, but he argues that Heidegger's phi-
losophy fails to provide a framework for such a thought.
The second idealistic component of the ontological use ofhistoricity lies in its
concept of'possibility', and the relationship between possibility and actuality.
For Adorno, what he terms the project ofbeing takes precedence over facticity,
and therefore ontology cornes to replicate the antithesis between possibility and
actuality inscribed in the Kantian contrast between categorial subjective struc-
ture and empirical multiplicity. Ontology cannot give an account of the rela-
tion between Being and beings, and is caught in an analogous trap to a
Kantian philosophy, which can give no content to the relations of a priori cate-
gories and how they apply to the sensible content of thought. Adorno formu-
lated sorne of these criticisms in his earlier critique of Marcuse's work, Hegel's
Ontology and the Theory f!f Historicity. Marcuse's work attempts a mediation
between concepts of ontologicallife and dialectics through a return to Hegel's
concept oflife as the space ofBeing. This work is his last overt attempt to med-
iate between a specifie Heideggerian philosophy and a fidelity to Hegelian dia-
lectics, and he conducts it through a reading of the Hegelian concept oflife as an
ontological concept. Furthermore, Dilthey becomes the link from Hegel to Hei-
degger in this work, and the concept ofhistoricity is the point at which the onto-
logical meets the ontic through an ontological concept of Life that is made
explicit through human praxis. 17 lt would be a mistake to accept Adorno's cri-
tique ofMarcuse's work as definitive here, and, in fact, Marcuse's book has been
rather under-appreciated. ln a later chapter, 1 will try to argue that Marcuse's
usage of a Hegelian concept oflife as motili ty is very similar to many of Adorno' s
own reflections in his essays on Hegel. However, for Adorno such a substantive
ontological endeavour needs to be socially mediated in turn, as he argues in
his critique: 'Why indeed should the "ontological" question precede that of
the interpretation of the real, historie al facts, since 1'Iarcuse himself would
Lijè -Philosophies 15
like to bridge the gap between ontology and facticity?,18 For Adorno, and
ultimately for Marcuse, the attempted bridging of this gap still privileges the
ontological moment.
Adorno agrees with the ontological project in the sense that his aim is the
'concrete unit y of nature and history', but this unit y cannot be developed
through the postulation of an ahistorical ontology either as foundational
ground or as the meaning of Being, but only 'developed from the elements of
real being itself' .19 This leads to the programmatic statement, which would
serve him weIl throughout his work:
If the question of the relation of nature and history is to be seriously posed,
then it only offers any chance of solution ifit is possible to comprehend historical
being in its most extreme historical determinacy, where it is most historical, as natural
being, or if it were possible to comprehend nature as an historical being where it seems to
rest most deeply in itselfas nature. 20
This statement has certain ambiguities which are continuaHy present in Ador-
no's work when referring to nature and history. Ifwe read the first pole of the
dialectic, that historical being must be read, 'in its most extreme historical
determinacy', as the natural, what does this mean? WeH, it appears to mean
two things in Adorno's work. First, that the historical, in terms of the transient
and the product of human construction, must be grounded upon a residue of
nature. This is the ontologie al moment in the dialectic, in that there is always
an ontological question as to the grounding of historical being. The natural is
considered here in naturalistic terms as a foundational ground. Second, this
statement can be read as a reading of the historical in terms of the natural as
'second nature'. Reading the historical as natural in this sense reveals how the
historie al has become eternalized as a natural non-hum an product. Reading
the natural as historical has a more straightforward programme in the sense
that every ontological ground in naturalistic terms must itself be read as
mediated historically by the forces and relations of production.
The second half of the essay concerns two readings of history and nature
which conform to Adorno's programma tic statement. The first is from Lubies
and concerns the reading of history through nature as 'second nature'. This is
nature that is no longer mute and foreign to the senses, but that presents itself as
a deadened, alienated, yet complex and meaningful set of'ciphers,.21 It consists
of a complex of meaning, but is inert, dead, cannot be brought to life. Lukacs'
exemplarity for Adorno is the attempt at reading nature as a historical product,
as the depositing ofhuman alienation into a world ofnature that becomes rotten
in its form. Lukacs reads history as being transformed into nature: that which
is transient is transformed into permanence. Adorno reminds us that there is
no first nature for Lukacs that is not alienated, that first nature for Lukacs
is the nature of science, grasped only in terms of our categorical construction
and not in itself: The result of the transformation of nature from something
living into something that is rotting, or even dead, petrified, is that any act of
16 Adorno's Concept ofLife
interpretation, any act of criticism, becomes a form ofawakening. The problem
for an interpreta tion of 'second nature' lies in the reading of an alienated form
oflife in terms ofwhat is expressed through that alienated form. Lukacs' early
philosophy moves from a life-philosophy which is concerned with how the living
can reach an expression in an ephemeral artistic form, into a Marxist interpre-
tation which reads alienated reified nature as the expression ofunderlying social
exploitation and alienation. However, the two moments are not completely
contradictory. Even in History and Glass Gonsciousness the account of reification
lies on an understanding ofFordist production processes as an act of domination
upon a living process of existing alongside nature. The process of reading the
decayed and damaged life as indicative of social domination still needs to
ground the expression ofsuffering that is contained within this interpretive pro-
cedure. The other key element of an interpretation that culmina tes in expres-
sion in Lukacs' work lies in his early writings in Soul and Form. Here, Lukacs
writes about the need for an expression oflife within ephemeral forms oflifè,
but, at the same time, the impossibility of any form in which life or the process
of living could be adequately captured. The concept of expression here lies in
the attempt to express through an interpretation of social phenomena the non-
identity of lifè with any of its ephemeral forms. In terms that resonate with
many of Adorno's later writings in Aesthetic Theory, Lukacs writes about the ges-
ture as something that attempts to give a formaI expression to life itself, but
always fails in this attempt. For Lukacs, the gesture serves the purpose of
making 'unambiguous the inexplicable'. 22 There are three important elements
to such an interpretive philosophy, which attempts to utilize a concept of
expression. First, there is the attempt, through an interpretation of damaged
life, to reveal within its immanent determinate negation the historical and
social suffering indicated by such a damage. Second, there is the expression of
the emphatic life that is hidden within such a reified state. Finally there is the
impossible and ideal demand to express aIl that is non-identical with thought
and that can never be expressed conceptually. These three components are an
intrinsic to Adorno's interpretive philosophy.
For Adorno, Be~amin serves the second exemplary move in the idea of nat-
ural history, precisely by bringing a notion ofawakening into the project of phi-
losophical interpretation. Benjamin shows that nature in itself cannot be
perceived as underlying substance, but must always be thought of as transitory
in itself, that there is no conception of nature without history. Everything that
exists must be grasped as a complex interweaving of nature and history, and
that which is historical grasped as natural, as that which is natural is grasped
as historical.
Adorno explicitly oudines his rapprochement with ontology, although, as he
states, it is a different form of ontology from the work of Heidegger:

A double turn, therefore, is made: on one hand l have reduced the ontological
problematic to a historical formula and tried to show in what way ontology
is to be concretely and historically radicalized. On the other hand l have
Life -Philosophies 17
shown under the aspect of transience, how history itself in a sense presses
towards an ontological turn. 23

This ontological turn, though, must in itselfbe historicized. However, there is

still a difficulty in Adorno's thinking, in that he emphasizes an ontological turn,
but at the sa me time resists any fundamental ontology. In terms of a concept
of damaged life which is to serve as a critique of contemporary social forms of
life, is it not reliant upon a foundational or naturalistic concept of life itself,
which can be recovered or uncovered beneath such a damage? The aspect of
the diaiectic of natural history that is not emphasized in his critical appro-
priation of Lukacs and Benjamin in the 'Idea ofNaturai History' is the reading
of the historical as natural, in terms of a concept of the naturai as a residue
within the historical, rather th an the natural as reifying 'second nature'. Is there
an emphatic concept of natural life in Adorno's work which can serve as
a means ofrecuperating a different mode ofsubject-object relations than those
that pertain within 'damaged life'? To explore this question further, it is
important to analyse the impact of two distinct life-philosophies on Adorno's
mature writings.

Life and Self-preservation

Adorno's philosophical anthropology conducted through his account of the

dialectic of enlightenment serves as the underpinning for his use of the concept
of 'life'. This philosophical anthropology relates to the formation of subjectiv-
ity, which is outlined in the Odysseus chapter of Dialectic of Enlightenment.
An account is given of the formation of the selfthrough the 'abrogation ofsacri-
fice'. Sacrificial rites contain within themselves the deceit of natural forces,
which will le ad to the outright domination of the self over nature. In sacrifice,
the gods are ostensibly propitiated with the sacrificial offering, but the very act
of attempting either to gain a favourable outcome or to defer an unfavourable
outcome contains within itself a change in attitude toward the gods and the nat-
ural world, an attempt to alter the course of events through human agency. This
agency is of course not fully developed in the sense that it acts against a back-
ground of weakness and fear of the supernatural. The self arises through an
increase in the powers ofhuman agency and a domination ofrather than sub-
jugation to nature. However, the self that arises, in denying and dominating
nature, denies and dominates its own involvement in the natural world. The
triumph over myth, instigates another myth in the form of the persistent, rigidi-
fied self: 'The identically persistent self, which arises in the abrogation of sacri-
fice immediately becomes an unyielding, rigidified sacrificial ritual that man
celebra tes upon himselfby opposing his consciousness to the natural context,.24
The grounding of the self arises through the domination of na ture in order to
preserve the life of the human animal, but in the pro cess of the domination of
18 Adorno' s Concept ofLife
nature the human disavows its connections with the natural world and there-
fore sacrifices i tself to save i tself.
The pre-history of subjectivity lies in a denial of nature in humanity and
releases a dominating irrationality, which controls both outward and inward
nature. This is a nucleus for Adorno of aIl civilizing rationality, and therefore,
at the very heart of aIl history lies this domination. What exactly this domina-
tion is, is perplexing. What is the inner and the outer nature that is being domi-
nated, and what is the relationship between the inner and outer prior to the
formation of the self? How does the self experience itself as dominating, and
what is being dominated? Are we discussing a form ofinstinctual repression, a
denial of'polymorphous perversity' in favour of the rigid ego, as Marcuse out-
lines in Eros and Civilisation? 25 AH ofthese suggestions are inimical to Adorno, as
he opposes arguments on the basis of a fundamental ontology of existence, or a
'state of nature' argument, and this is perhaps why the references to nature
become increasingly sparse in the later work, as the language of objectivity
and non-identity replaces the ideas of nature and life. The exception to this
rule is Aesthetic Theory, in which concepts ofnature and natural beauty are cen-
tral, and where Adorno attempts his most complete description of the dimen-
sions of a fulfilled experience. Such a description of a fulfilled experience can
occur only through aesthetic experience, because aesthetics deals with sem-
blance rather than the reality of experience, and therefore can image a reconci-
liation that cannot be affirmed in reality.
To investigate further the responses to the above questions, it is necessary to
interrogate Adorno's usage of both Freudian and Nietzschean themes in his
writings, and also his critiques of Freud and Nietzsche. Adorno is indebted to
Nietzsche for this conception of human life where aIl classifications and pro-
cesses are due to serving the needs and drives to dominate and master the
external world, and it has been regularly noted that Adorno's philosophical
anthropology is fundamentally reliant on Nietzschean notions of power and
domination. Bauer further identifies the commonalities in the conceptions of
truth that Adorno and Nietzsche underrnine, in that both are opposed to corre-
spondence theories of truth and privilege understandings of truth as 'experi-
ment and adventure' .26 However, despite these evident commonalities, when
exploring concepts oflife, Adorno and Nietzsche appear to diverge quite shar-
ply, even where Adorno might superficiaHy be appearing to be outlining a
Nietzschean theme. This is particularly the case when we examine the issue of
self-preservation. For Adorno, as we have seen, the process of self-preservation,
through its reliance on the dominance and mastery of external nature and
in its objectifying classifications of externality, separates the human from the
natural in such a way that the life that is to be preserved is no longer evi-
dent. For Adorno, life occurs through the interrelationship of humanity and
the world, through the embodiment of humans in nature, but the process of
self-preservation forces a scission between humans and the natural world, and
between hum ans and their embodiment. Adorno outlines this in the follow-
Life-Philosophies 19

Man's domination over himself, which grounds his selfhood, is almost

always the destruction of the subject in whose service it is undertaken: for the
substance which is dominated, suppressed and dissolved by virtue of self-
preservation is none other than that very life as functions of which the
achievements of self-preservation find their sole definition and determina-
tion: it is, in fact, what is to be preserved. 2ï

Sorne of these themes are admittedly Nietzschean, but Nietzsche would want
to differentiate a concept of life that is fundamentally other to any definition
of the human and is even not dependent on human self-preservation. Whilst
Nietzsche occasionally writes as though our processes ofknowledge are subordi-
nate to the demands of self-preservation, he fundamentally argues that in its
basic organic components there is more to life than self-preservation:

One cannot ascribe the most basic and primeval activities of protoplasm to a
will to self-preservation, for it takes unto itself absurdly more than wou Id be
required to preserve it: and above aH, it does not thereby 'preserve itself', it
faHs apart - The drive that rules here has to explain precisely this absence of
desire for self-preservation. 28

For Nietzsche, human subjectivity is an epiphenomenon of the pro cess of

life, which is ruled fundamentally by a will to power that takes place in com-
peting suprahuman drives and instincts: 'life wou Id be defined as an enduring
form of processes of the establishment of force, in which the different con-
tenders grow unequally' .29
This movement beyond self-preservation belongs to the possibility of organie
development and a fundamental battle between the strong and the weak. l t is in
this sense that Adorno and Nietzsche depart. Whereas both have an account of
the formation of subjectivity as a renunciation of instinct and the body, for
Adorno the important moment of an investigation of the pre-history ofhuman
subjective formation is an understanding of the human as more entwined with
the natural as a process ofmutuality, whereas Nietzsche's radicalism lies in his
attempt to dispense with the human and the subject in terms of an aristocracy of
what will forge powerful entities in life. Where Nietzsche and Adorno converge
is in the understanding of a form of primaI rupture in the formation of the
human subject, and an account of the formation of culture which contains
the seeds ofits own decline in its very creation. The difference cornes in the affir-
mative and negative stances that are taken towards this, as, for Nietzsche, life is
always something more than human, and this is to be welcomed, whereas for
Adorno, hum an life is the fundamental concern. This dictates the critique of
Nietzsche that Adorno conducts in Minima Moralia. For Adorno, Nietzsche's
critique of metaphysics argues that hope gets mistaken for truth in the human
construction of metaphysics. For Adorno, this is a fundamentally misplaced cri-
tique. because without a specifie form ofhope, which is notjust a wishful think-
ing, but which is 'wrested from reality by negating it',30 then no form oftruth
20 Adorno)s Concept ofLife
can be provided in the current climate ofmodernity. For Adorno, the recogni-
tion of the untruth ofhuman existence does not mean that there is no hope for a
way ofliving differently, and this form ofblind acceptance, ofNietzschean amor
fati, is more theological than the negative glimpses of truth as hope. For the
Nietzschean, this hope is beside the point, because the impossibility ofliving in
the sense given to that in hum an life is not the most important issue. Of more
importance is the release of those energies within life that will further its devel-
opment, which, as we have seen, are not those ofhuman self-preservation. Keith
Ansell-Pearson argues as follows in his book Viroid Life, 'The task is to rend el' the
concepts of soul, life, value, and memory genealogical in Nietzsche's ... sense,
not metaphysical ... ,31
To understand what Adorno me ans by the life that is 'annulled by self-
preservation', it will be necessary to look elsewhere th an his reception of
Nietzsche, and therefore we turn to the work of Freud.

~ arcissism, Sublirnation and the Ego

Psychoanalytic concepts informed Adorno's work and the project of the Frank-
furt School throughout and particularly offered an understanding of how the
processes of intensified reification embedded themselves within the hum an
psyche. However, the critique of the usage of psychoanalysis by Frankfurt
School thinkers, a critique which has been applied to Adorno, is that in their
outline of a fundamental repression of an 'inner' nature they disregard con-
nections between inner and outer nature and reify an originary state of pre-
subjectification and libidinal happiness. Bernstein characterizes this separation
between inner and outer as a pplied to mechanisms of repression in the following
way: 'The fundamental conceptual error of the simple instinctual renunciation
story is that, despite itself, it assumes a fundamental separation between nature
and culture, as if inner nature was a qualitatively and quantitatively given
... ,32 This is what Whitebrook, in his book Perversion and Utopia, has referred to
as 'this Rousseauean figure ofthought' that is searching for sorne untainted ele-
ment within human nature that can then serve as an Archimedean point from
which to effect radical or revolutionary transformation. 33 Adorno and Hork-
heimer do fall into these traps in Dialectic of Enlightenment, but Adorno has a
more nuanced view of Freudian concepts which it will be useful to outline to
give further content to the understanding of a concept oflife.
Adorno appropria tes from Freud the early distinction between ego-instincts
and libidinal instincts; as Freud states '1 have proposed that two groups ofsuch
primaI instincts should be distinguished: the ego, or self-preservative instincts,
and the sexual instincts. ,34 This simple division would give content to Adorno's
argument that self-preservation annuls alliife in the dominating ego of subjec-
tivity, with the placeholder for the concept oflife in this schema being the idea
of a free expression of the sexual instincts. This would give Adorno an account of
the formation of subjectivity as a renunciation, and a renunciation in favour
Life -Philosophies 21
of the self-preservation instincts at the price of any free expression of the sexual
instincts. This would be the account that we have seen criticized above as
the 'simple instinctual renunciation story'. This is certainly an account that
Adorno appears to be offering in Dialectic of Enlightenment. Whitebrook argues
that this reliance on the repression of an originary sexuality as the mot or for
civilization and the refusaI to construct any theory of sublimation which would
allow for a more free attribution of the sexual instincts condemns Adorno and
Horkheimer's understanding ofhuman life to a form ofbad utopianism:

... it would follow from their argument that nothing short ofremaining in or
recapturing the original state and fulfilling 'the instinct for complete, univer-
saI and undivided happiness' could prevent the dialectic of enlightenment
from unfolding. This is the tacit omnipotent requirement that constitutes the psychoana-
lytically formulated bad utopianism on which the en tire construction rests. 35

In response to this problem, White brook outlines the need for a theory of sub-
limation which could produce alternative forrns of object attachment for the
ego, which would not necessarily result in the catastrophic reading that
Adorno gives. Whitebrook is sensitive to the historical situation that Adorno is
writing from at the end of the Second World War, but argues that Adorno and
Horkheimer nevertheless privilege first nature, and refuse to theorize how this
nature could be 'sublimated-sublated'. 36 Whereas many of these arguments are
telling when applied to the fragmentary text that is Dialectic of Enlightenment, it
ignores Adorno's more detailed appropriation and critique ofFreud.
Adorno's Freud is a peculiar mixture of the early and the late work. Adorno
does not show a great deal of interest in the Oedipal structure of hum an-
kind, arguing that Freud's timeless ahistorical understanding of the id reifies
and covers over the social components of unconscious processes which are
unconscious precisely due to the process of modernity: 'The time-Iag between
consciousness and the unconscious is itselfthe stigma of the contradictory devel-
opment of society. Everything that got left behind is sedimented in the uncon-
scious and has to foot the bill for progress and enlightenment. Its backwardness
becomes Freud's timelessness.,37
For Adorno, contrary to the critique ofhis work, it is the id that is rigid not the
ego, and it is the failure ofpsychoanalysis to reflect on the social content ofthis
abstractness which is its undoing due to its reversion to myth: ' ... Freud's
"myths" ... recur wherever Freud too perpetrates ego-psychology, in his case
an ego-psychology of the id, and treats the id as if it possessed the consummate
rationality of the Viennese banker it at times really does resemble'. 38 Therefore,
Adorno certainly do es not articulate a first nature approach to an understand-
ing oflibidinal repression. Furthermore, when referring to the ego, he reads the
ego in more complicated terrns thanjust as a rigid, dominating form ofsubjec-
tivity. White brook argues that Adorno sees the ego as 'rigidified, compulsory
and coercive',39 but it is far more unstable th an that implies. Adorno's under-
standing of the ego relies on a reading of Freud's later essay on 'The Ego and
22 Adorno's Concept of Life
the Id', alongside holding on to the earlier division between instincts for self..
preservation and sexual instincts. Adorno does not refer to Freud's revision of
his instinctual theory whereby the sexual instinct cornes to include both self..
preservative and libidinal impulses, whereas it is counterposed to the death
instinct. Adorno seems singularly uninterested in the death instinct, which is
peculiar given his later writings on death and survival. For him, the ego has to
contend with both the sexual and the self-preservative instincts and is therefore
far from stable. This is not a once and for aIl battle but an ongoing instability
within the structure of the ego. Adorno's central critique of ego-psychology is its
rigidifying gaze, which fixes the id and the ego as entities which are separated
and which only interact through the mechanisms of drive and repression.
The concept ofnarcissism, for Adorno, 'counts among Freud's most magnifi-
cent discoveries'. 40 N arcissism further undermines the strict division between
ego and id, because it means that the ego can be charged with a certain form of
libido, a narcissistic libido. The self-preserving instinct of the ego remains tied
to the ego, but not in the form of rationality, not in the form of control, but in the
form of a particular kind of 'narcissistic injury'. The concentration is then on
the powerlessness of the ego. Narcissism bec ornes a form of defence mechanism,
which is not even registered as such by the ego, because it takes place through
libidinal processes. Adorno even go es on to question whether repression can be
seen to take place in the rational consciousness of the ego rather th an being a
formation ofnarcissistic libido. Narcissism becomes so important for Adorno.
because it incarcerates an instinct for self-preservation within the libidinal
structure of the human psyche. This is discussed in relation to feelings ofhelp-
lessness. The problem is not so much the feeling ofhelplessness in the face of an
all-powerfui society, because the ego as ego can articulate and express this feel-
ing, but the narcissistic ego fa Ils in love with its own situation of helplessness,
such that it doesn't recognize the situation for what it is, it cannot 'experience
or confront (this) helplessness' .41 As we will see later with the question ofreifica-
tion, it is this inability in current society to grasp immediacy as a mediated form
or to experience helplessness as helplessness, which pushes any experience of
the truth of society to the margins. In the essay 'Sociology and Psychology', the
margins become that of childhood. Childhood sexuality becomes something
that cannot be grasped or adequately conceptualized by the discipline that sup-
posedly discovered it, Freudian psychoanalysis:

His magnificent discovery of infantile sexuality will cease to do violence only

wh en we learn to understand the infinitely subtle and utterly sexual impulses
ofchildren. In their perceptive world, poles apart from that of the grownups.
a fleeting smeIl or a gesture take on dimensions that the analyst, faithful to
adult criteria, would like to attribute solely to their observation oftheir par-
ents' coitus. 42

The Freudian account ofnarcissism gives Adorno a concrete understanding of

how the very core oflife can become reified, in the sense that narcissism becomes
Lijè -Philosophies 23
an identification with that reification. What Adorno couid have developed in
this essay is that narcissism becomes the form that mimesis takes in modernity.
N arcissism as a pathic and helpless identification with that power which takes
hoid oflife is the return in modernity of the form of mimesis as fearfui identifica-
tion of a dominating nature. The twist within the modern form of narcissism is
that fear is not the predominant mode for such a relation, but the narcissistic
love of the very elements within the self that rigidify and open up the self
to the constraints of power. Adorno's critique of a commodified culture explores
the means in which humans come to desire that which con troIs and manipu-
lates their desire. The 'life that does not live' is this life that identifies and desires
the very forces, which preclude it from living freely.
In this opening chapter, l have given an account of the philosophical antece-
dents to Adorno's engagement with many of the themes oflife-philosophy, and
how those themes survive within his early and mature work. In considering
Adorno's usage of Nietzschean and Freudian themes, I have demonstrated
Adorno's fundamental departure from a Nietzschean concept of life, in his
emphasis upon human life rather than life itself, and l have shown that Ador-
no's critical appropriation of Freud offers a nuanced account of how reifica-
tion becomes affectively sedimented within subjectivity, rather than a simple
account of instinctual repression. Adorno is adamant that it is only through
the determinate negation of damaged life itself that a reverse image of a better
life can be constructed. Therefore, it is to an account of damaged life that l will
turn in the next chapter.
Chapter 2

Damaged Life

After Auschwitz

The apotheosis of damaged life for Adorno is represented by the life in the camps
at Auschwitz. Auschwitz marks a turning point in history for Adorno, a
moment that changes fundamentally our relation to both the world and pre-
vious ways of theorizing the world. Auschwitz changes the very nature of any
affirmative attempt at thinking the absolute, the core of the metaphysical tradi-
tion. Adorno's thinking on Auschwitz identifies a particular historical conjunc-
ture as revealing both a trajectory for a certain tradition - particularly, but not
exclusively, the German philosophical tradition - and also the starting point
for a different mode of conceiving the relation between philosophy, life and his-
tory. Auschwitz is a problematic starting point because of the apocalyptic sense
of the catastrophe contained in the event of Auschwitz. Auschwitz as cata-
strophe threatens to consume any critical relation to the event, and to life after
this historical convulsion. Adorno's thinking in relation to Auschwitz should be
conceived in accordance with his phrase in Negative Dialectics, that 'universal
history must be both constructed and denied'. 1 The univers al history that is
constructed in the form of Auschwitz is in danger ofbecoming a teleological his-
tory that culminates in a catastrophe. This kind of negative teleology would
leave us with a dead end for thought. The question of the denial of such a history
is the question of the 'damaged life' that survives Auschwitz, and this question is
posed through the changed concept of a speculative experience that Adorno
tries to articulate in response to the events named as Auschwitz. The extreme
dialectical tension posed by the question of Auschwitz is that between the
thought of a negative realization of history in an event which consumes and
destroys a tradition leaving it with no grounds for recuperation, alongside the
denial of such a negative realization through a speculative materialism, that
will emphasize modes ofliving which can point beyond the current immanent
historical context. The problem with Adorno's thinking of Auschwitz is that it
tends towards the absolutization ofanindeterminate event which then becomes
over-determining as an end to history, an end to philosophical discourse or
artistic representation. Readings such as this will ultimately end up in a meta-
physics of Auschwitz, rather than a metaphysics beyond Auschwitz.
It is not at an clear why Adorno identifies this particular moment in history,
or even what Auschwitz the name denotes for Adorno. In JVegative Dialectics,
Damaged Life 25
Auschwitz serves as the name representing the systematic, planned and techno-
logically executed genocide of the Jews during the Second World War by the
Nazis, with the covert or overt cooperation of the German people. More impor-
tantly, it represents the logical outcome of a certain tendency within Western
philosophical and social thought that Adorno terms 'identity thinking'. Ausch-
witz confirms the general trend of Western thinking, which is comprised of a
totalizing urge to integrate all difference under the self-preserving and subsum-
ing identity of the concept. The Nazi genocide occurs as a practical culmination
of a German culture which has instantiated a form of identity thinking which
led to the rationalizations of a totalizing but discrimina te slaughter, which clas-
sifies, rationalizes, and makes each individuallife replaceable and exchange-
able with another. For Adorno, this process is at one with a drive within
capitalism for abstraction, exchangeability and identification. In Negative Dia-
lectics, he is not concerned with locating a specifie German context of anti-
Semitism, or even a history of anti-Semitism within German philosophy, but
rather with the paralysis caused to a tradition of German philosophy by an act
that in sorne senses can be read as a logical outcome of that tradition: 'Our
metaphysical faculty is paralysed because actual events have shattered the
basis on which speculative thought could be reconciled with experience. ,2
The starting point for Adorno's reflections is how a changed experience
may affect the pro cess of a speculative thinking, and the effect is framed in the
strong terms of a reconciliation. His depiction of the historie al conjuncture is
lacking, and there could be many arguments postulated for the weakness of an
argument that is never proffered, as to why Auschwitz, or why only Auschwitz?
Adorno appears singularly uninterested in this argument. Auschwitz serves as a
model of experience, which is pertinent personally to him and the tradition from
which he is writing and serves as an extreme instantiation of a certain result
of enlightenment progress. Adorno can be interpreted as arguing that a history
of domination has culminated in a catastrophic genocide that was inevitable
given the structures ofthought and institutions inherent in modern capitalism.
He appears to recognize the problem of interpreting history in such a way
wh en he writes in Minima Moralia that 'the recent past always presents itself as
destroyed by catastrophes'. 3 Auschwitz serves as a revelation of a latent poten-
tial within capitalism, a revelation that catastrophizes history in the sense that
what is revealed is worse than could have been imagined. This is not then a
determinism ofhistory in the sense of a culmination of a process which inevita-
bly led to thisjuncture, but a caesura which reveals a latent meaning in aIl that
has gone before.
The question posed by thèse reflections on Auschwitz for Adorno is the possi-
bility ofliving after Auschwitz, and what it means to be alive in the sense of an
experience that can move beyond the context of a life totally governed in its
forms and responses by power. What is revealed in the life in the camps in
Auschwitz is a form of death-in-life, where the individual is reduced to an exist-
ing specimen. The death-in-life revealed by the camps is the outcome of a pro-
cess of enlightenment thought, which abstracts from aIl qualitative elements
26 Adorno's Concept ofLife
within life in the service ofself-preservation. Adorno and Horkheimer introduce
this concept of the specimen in Dialectic ofEnlightenment, as an extreme reduction
ofall human ways ofrelating to the world:

Through the mediation of the total society, which encompasses aIl relations
and impulses, human beings are being turned back into precisely what the
developmentallaw of society, the principle of the self had opposed: mere
examples of the species, identical to one another through isolation within
the compulsively controlled collectivity.4

The individual becomes both completely isolated and exchangeable and as a

specimen has no representative function even in its total fungibility. Adorno
and Horkheimer trace the move from sacrificial rites to the abstraction of
enlightenment thinking, and the role of the individual as a specimen within
each process. Within the sacrificial rite, the victim has a representative role, is
isolated as a genus, an example that represents an exchange within sacrifice.
However, even within sacrifice, the representative nature of the sacrificial vic-
tim makes it somehow not totally subsumed by the process of a sacrificial
exchange. This representative function of an individual as genus is lost in the
move to abstract enlightenment thought, where the representative function
of the individual gives way tG a complete exchangeability without any larger
representative function. The individual becomes a specimen, an item that can
be universally transferred and exchanged. Adorno and Horkheimer argue in
the following way in Dialectic ofEnlightenment: 'Representation gives way to uni-
versaI fungibility. An atom is smashed not as a representative but as a specimen
ofmatter, and the rabbit suffering the torment of the laboratory is seen, not as a
representative, but, mistakenly, as a mere exemplar.,5 What Auschwitz reveals
as the apotheosis of this pro cess is this universal fungibility applied to humans
rather th an objects or animais. In the camps there is the incarnation of a form of
life which is exchangeable and completely reduced to a bare existent.
The philosopher who has developed Adorno's thinking on Auschwitz and on
survival, life and death after Auschwitz most recently is Giorgio Agamben, in
his concept ofbare life and his account of the life in the camps of the Muselmann.


For Agamben, the paradigmatic figure in the camps is the Muselmann, the figure
of the camp inmate who has given up on life, who has become reduced to a form
of 'bare life', which is merely existing. There is little agreement on the origin
and use of the term Muselmann, and different terms were used in different
camps to refer to this form oflife within the camps. The term is the German for
'Muslim' and is said to have been used to represent those who had passively
given up on life. The analogy is with a stereotyped view of the Muslim religion
Damaged Life 27
as a passive and fatalistic form offaith. 6 This figure represents the extreme limit
point of the meeting of the hum an and the non-human within the surviving bio-
logical body. The Muselmiinner were those camp inhabitants who had been
reduced to the lowest level of existence, whose sole form of existence was based
around their food and getting their next meal, and who had reached a stage of
an inability to communicate on any level with other prisoners. They were uni-
versally shunned, and invariably were selected for extermination rapidly.
The Aluselmann has several important implications for Agamben. First, in an
echo of Adorno, this figure confirms that in Auschwitz there is now something
worse than death, a form of existence that is created that is beyond all previous
imagining, and tha t crea tes a form of death in life:

The atrocious news that the survivors carry from the camps to the land of the
human beings is that it is possible to lose dignity and decency beyond imagi-
nation, that there is stilliife in the most extreme degradation. And this new
knowledge now becomes the touchstone by which to judge and measure aIl
morality and all dignity. ï

Agamben is articulating Adorno's thought that Auschwitz instantiates a new

and changed relation to aIl metaphysical thoughts ofhuman significance. The
relation to death has been a fundamental category of metaphysical thought,
whether that was in relation to ideas of immortality or ideas of a death that is
one's own, or whether it is through death as the opening up ofa horizon ofpos-
sibility. The experience of death in the camps gives the lie to aIl these thoughts,
as the point between life and death is precisely blurred, it becomes impossible to
know when death cornes, as the ending of a life can occur within the biological
span of a life. This is the sense of Adorno's reference to the dying of elderly
people who, in their decline, may cease to have any remnant oftheir individual-
ity long before their biological life ceases. Agamben too refers to the modern
experience of death, using examples such as the comatose person. This is a
common problem for modern medical ethics: the point at which life ends. The ~
ethical significance produced by this question does not lie in the delineation of a
point between life and death, which has become more difficult the more
advanced modern medical science becomes, it lies in the creation in an indivi-
dual of a site of an indifferentiation between life and death. Whereas the natural
ending of a life can prefigure what happened in the camps, the significant differ-
ence is the production of such astate through mechanisms of power and technol-
ogy. Agamben expresses this through the idea ofsurvival.
Referring to Foucault's concept of the growth ofbiopower through the trans-
formation of notions of sovereignty, Agamben argues that Auschwitz instanti-
ates a new form of biopower. He cites Foucault as arguing that the 'old'
sovereign power constituted itself on the basis of the dictum 'to make die and
to let live', premised upon notions of the right to termina te life through capital
punishment. This dictum changes through the Enlightenment to the idea of'to
28 Adorno's Concept ofLift
make live and to let die', a form ofbiopower which is characterized by technol-
ogies focusing upon the production, discipline and reproduction of the human
body, within paradigms ofjustice and science that focus on the maintenance of
life rather than the use ofdeath as an exercise ofpower and control. For Agam-
ben, Auschwitz instantiates a third form of exercising power, a form that he
characterizes as the 'most specific trait of twentieth-century biopolitics ... to
make survive'. 8
Survival, in this sense, is a production, an effect of power rather than a resis-
tance to power. Survival instantiates in the individual a form oflife that is not
living, and furthermore, a form of life that cannot testify to the extirpation of
human life within it. The Muselmann is the figure that reveals the nature of the
camps, but it is precisely the figure that cannot bear witness, because he or she is
beyond the point of bearing witness, beyond the point of any construction of
meaning or even attempt to give meaning to experience. Agamben ironically
confirms this thesis at the end ofhis book with a series of quotations from camp
survivors based around the theme 'I was a Muselmann'. 9 I t appears as an odd end
to a book that has been arguing that there is no possibility of bearing witness
to this experience of death in life, however the testimonies cited support his
argument, because there is always a route out for these people, a situation
beyond the state of the Muselmann. By the very fact of their survival this had to
be so, otherwise extermination would follow. The testimonies revolve around
the moment when they ceased to be a Muselmann, rather than accounts of the
experience itself, confirming the impossibility of rendering such an experience,
ofbearing witness.
For Agamben, the production, based around the trope 'to make survive', is
the point at which: ' ... biopower sought to produce its final secret: a kind of
absolute biopolitical substance that, in its isolation, allows for the attribution
of demographic, ethnic, national and political identity'. 10 Agamben's daim is
that the camp is the first time the space of a new political production and inter-
action between power, life and politics becomes instantiated. This occurs initi-
ally in a space of a suspension of the law, but becomes encrypted within the
bodies ofhumans in a way that cannot be resolved through a return to a form
of law once the suspension of law has passed. ''''hat is revealed through the
camps, through the figure of the Muselmann, is an indistinction between life
and death, which will continually reappear as a new form of political power
after this moment. Agamben's examples concern medical technology, what he
has termed 'bio-political tattooing', and one thinks of Camp X-ray at Guanta-
namo Bay, and other such zones ofindistinction. 11
For Agamben, what is at stake in the camp is the isolation and production of a
form of pure being, a 'bare life', which can then be dealt with at will by 'sover-
eign power'. I t is important to note that bare life is a produced form oflife, not a
reduction to sorne core essence. The importance of the paradigm of the camps
for Agamben is that, in the figure of the Muselmann, a form oflife is produced as
bare life, as just a subject for the play of power.
Damaged Life 29

Dying Today
Agamben's reflections on the death-in-life produced in the camps and the pro-
duction of sites of bare life within the political spaces of modern societies is an
important development of Adorno's thoughts on the relation between life and
death in modern societies. In Negative Dialectics, Adorno reflects on the relation
to death in modern society in a passage entitled 'Dying today'. What is impor-
tant for Adorno about the place of death in modernity is its relation to a con-
sciousness that feels itself both immortal and invulnerable, and, at the same
time, constantly threatened by death. The situation of a modern experience of
death is not marked by its necessity, but by its contingency. Death becomes
something that is unexpected and contingent, and that when it arrives induces
panic, sim ply because it is contingent. The change in the experience of death is
from a form of society which would integrate dea th into the daily patterns oflife
(in an illusory way, there is no more meaning to this than there is in the modern
experience of death), to an individu al and a society that eradicates death as a
possibility, as Adorno writes, people 'cannot absorb the fact that they must
die' .12 What follows from this statement is unexpected. Given the tenor of Ador-
no's arguments throughout the book on the nature of the reification and rigidity
ofmodern subjectivity, one would expect there to be an argument as to how this
modern exorcism of the fact of death from the modern subjective consciousness
would result in a critique ofreified subjectivity, but instead, and perversely, as
Adorno himself acknowledges, there is hope, that 'death does not constitute the
entirety of existence'. 13 The modern ego does not exorcise the reality of death as
a result of the increasing aggrandisement of the drive for self-preservation, but
rather the opposite, the moments of bodily debility which release the human
organism from its perpetuaI drive for self-preservation liberate a moment of
independence in human consciousness, a moment oftranscendence:

This strengthens a speculation in counterpoint to the insight of the object's

supremacy: whether the mind has not an element of independence, an
unmixed element, liberated at the very times when the mind is not devouring
everything ... Despite the deceptive concern with self-preservation, it would
hardly be possible without that mental element to explain the resistant
strength of the idea ofimmortality, as Kant still harbored it. 14

The idea of immortality is not tied to continuing self-preservation, but to an

idea of transcendence and independence intrinsic to the moment of conscious-
ness, and is most liberated when the task of self-preservation is least necessary,
the example Adorno gives being cases of severe debility. Within the experience
of death lies its opposite, the experience oftranscendence, of continuation, as an
'unmixed' element of consciousness, something intrinsic to consciousness itself.
Alongside this attempt to deal with death by exorcising it from life, the reality
of death when it looms becomes more consuming and liable to cause panic in
30 Adorno's Concept ofLife
humans. As each individual consciousness becomes increasingly abstracted and
levelled in modern capitalism, the idea of death becomes more terrifying, not
for the sake ofitself, but because ofwhat it reveals about life. The ultimate reifi-
cation of death reveals the reification oflife, the reality of the replaceability of
each individual unit by the next individual unit. This panic is brought to
another level by the realization within the camps at Auschwitz of a form oflife
that is to be feared that is worse th an death. The accomplishment of modernity
is the eradication of the fear of death by its replacement with something worse,
the fear of a living death, the life of the camps.
The meditation on 'Dying today' would be more accurately described as a
reflection on the possibility ofliving today, and it leads to this through a reflec-
tion on the modern experience of subjectivity through the relation to death.
We can isolate three moments~ then, within the account of the relation to death
in modernity. First, the reality of death reflects upon the paucity of life in
modern societies. The horror of death in which each individual is replaceable
and forgettable holds up a mirror to the deathlike processes within a reified
society. Second, this process can no longer be overcome in Heideggerean terrns
by the adoption of an attitude or authentic appropriation of the possibility
of death. 1t is not that in modernity there is a wilful repression of the fact of
death, which has superseded more authentic ways of relating to death, but,
rather, the revelation of the death in life in the camps at Auschwitz introduces
an indetermination between life and death. For the first time, it is possible to die
and keep on living. This is the form of survival that Agamben writes of in the
fonn of the Muselmann. However, thirdly, within this death in life there is a pos-
sibility released by the letting go of the drive for self-preservation, which dis-
lodges the ego from the mechanisms of power which have served to preserve its
identity. There is a danger in this third argument that is certainly present in
Adorno's work, and becomes very apparent in Agamben's philosophy. The
danger is that by taking the site of a bare life as the site through which a redemp-
tion can occur, there is an affirmation ofbare life as such. Agamben's philoso-
phy attempts to try and ask the question ofwhether there can be a form oflife
within modern societies in which a bare life cannot be recognized, but it pro-
duces this through an ontological concept of potentiality as extreme passivity
which lias a similarity to bare life itself. Agamben's adoption of redemptive
themes me ans that, in his philosophy, only that which is most lost can be
redeemed, but then how do we take up a critical ethical stance to the production
ofbare life, a stance which is also constantly present in Agamben's work?
For Adorno, any interrogation of modern life must begin with the estranged
and degraded form oflife that is being lived: 'He who wishes to know the truth
about life in its immediacy must scrutinize its estranged form, the objective
powers that determine individual existence even in its most hidden recesses.,IS
However, Adorno will attempt to delineate within the features of damaged life
the possibilities of a different life. This is not though the dissolution of a subjec-
tive position within an immanent reified context, but a knowledge of estrange-
ment itself. This requires a positive concept of enlightenment, a process of
Damaged Life 31

critical rationality that can reflect upon and grasp the estrangement from
nature within the processes of enlightenment thinking. Adorno and Horkhei-
mer reü:r to this process, as a secondary reflection upon enlightenment thinking:
'Enlightenment is more than enlightenment, it is nature made audible in its
estrangement.,I6 The problem for Adorno, is that in his critique of everyday
life in modernity, and in his account of the tendencies towards total reification
within modern societies that culminates in the death in life in Auschwitz, there
is little space for the critical rationality demanded by a meta-reflection on the
processes of enlightenment thinking. It is to this account of the damaged life
that we now turn.

Darnaged Lifè

In l.\1inima l.\1oralia, Adorno constructs an immanent critique of everyday life

through an examination and presentation of a whole range of examples of the
damaged individuallife. Adorno presents a series of images of ephemerallife, as
markers or indexes of damage and suffering.
What this amounts to is a fundamentally expressive philosophical work, but
what is expressed is not an emphatic concept oflife but damaged life as the form
of life within capitalism. Axel Honneth has written about this as a 'physiog-
nomy of the capitalist form of life', and this is a useful way of framing the out-
lines of damaged life that are presented in Minima Moralia, as it captures the
way in which what is presented, often in a bodily form. as a loss of experience
is aiming to express the damaged physiognomy of a form of life. 17 The book
can then be viewed as a pursuit within the everyday for a form oflife which can
escape the grasp of power, a pursuit that is futile. Every life is marked by the
processes of exchange and abstraction characteristic of capitalist societies.
There is no valorization of the transformative practices of everyday life in
Adorno's critique, only a reflection on how the very minutiae of everyday life
are infected with forms of damage done to life itself. Honneth argues that
Adorno is constructing a form of social theory which creates ideal-typical fig-
ures of forms of damaged life, which taken together can represent a survey of
the suffering of everyday life within a capitalist form. The prospect of a resis-
tance to such a damaged life is represented by the moment of suffering that
is often invoked throughout many of the aphorisms within Minima Moralia.
Honneth argues that:
The concept of'suffering' that Adorno employed is not meant in the sense of
noting an explicit, linguistically articulated experience, rather, it is 'trans-
cendentally' presupposed everywhere there is the justified suspicion that
human beings experience a loss of their self-realization and happiness
through the restriction oftheir rational capacities. 18
1 don't think that the language of a transcendent al presupposition is necessarily
helpful here in that the experience ofsuffering is itselfuncertain and marginal
32 Adorno"s Concept ofLife
and not ev en actual at times within the capitalist form oflife. Furthermore, 1
don't think that suffering can bejust conceived as a restriction of rational capa-
cities, but rather as a fundamental affective restriction upon life. Nevertheless,
Honneth is correct that many of the aphorisms in Minima Moralia opera te
through constructing ephemeral forms of everyday life, although 1 wouldn't
refer to these as ideal typical constructions. The mode by which these forms of
life reveal their damage is through an invocation of an experience of suffering
life. Furthermore, many of these aphorisms invoke an experience of life and
health as that which is produced through capitalist forces as a denial of the
living. There is an explicit negative concept of the living in Minima Moralia,
which involves a turning against life. In the aphorism entitled 'For Anatole
France', Adorno argues that an abstract concept oflife as a healthy becoming
and growth imitates an that is destructive and dominating within capitalist
identification and abstraction:

The concept oflife in its abstraction ... is inseparable from what is ruthless,
truly deadly and destructive. The cult of life for its own sake always boiled
down to the cult ofthese powers. Things commonly caIled expressions oflife,
from burgeoning fertility and the boisterous activity of children ... aIl this,
understood absolutely, takes away the light from the other possibility in
blind self-assertion. 19

Even the affective productivity oflife only serves to mimic the self-assertion of a
total domination of objectivity within a capitalist form oflife. Happiness and
health are produced in a wilful self.. exertion that expends its affective energy
on an image ofhealth whichjust reflects a general domination oflife. There is
then a 'sickness ofhealth' within an injunction to monitor and police our bodies
and affectivity constantly for signs of disease, decay and productivity. Thus, the
vigorous and the vital take on the signs of 'prepared corpses, from whom the
news oftheir not-quite successful decease has been withheld for reasons ofpopu-
lation policy'. 20 Therefore, there is within the decay of experience a possibility
that arises oilly through that decay, and experienced as a suffering ofthe body.
The decay of experience releases possibilities only through a negative apprehen-
sion or mimesis of reified life as a life that is no longer. In the understanding and
interpretation of evanescent forms of suffering life, through the particular
details of their affective relations and everyday activities, a universal is con-
structed speculatively as an image of damaged life. The questions that arise for
Adorno in this negative outline of a life that is no longer are: how is it that
through a decay of experience, which results in a dissolution of subjectivity,
something can survive or return within the subject that prevents its annihila-
tion? How do the new possibilities arise through the decay of experience, and
how are they prevented from simply being either an annihilation of life or an
identification with the processes that reduce life to such a form of damage?
An important avenue into these questions is to think about the concept of
experience itself, and the account given by Walter Benjamin of the decay
Damaged Life 33
of experience, as a transition from one form of experience (Erfahrung) to another
type of experience (Erlebnis). This is an argument that Adorno shares and
adapts for his own purposes, although he will famously draw quite divergent
conclusions from this critique.

Decay of Experience: Erlebnis and Erfahrung

In his work on Baudelaire, Benjamin thematizes the transition in modern

experience through a differentiation between Erlebnis and Erfahrung. 21 It is
worth considering the meaning of these terms as they developed in philos-
ophical usage, before examining in detail Benjamin's account of the decay of
Gadamer oudines the history of the term Erlebnis in his book Truth and Method.
He writes that as a noun the term first came to prominence in the 1870s, when it
was used in biographical writing. Erlebnis, with its use of the prefix er-, added to
the word for 'living', lebnis, gives a deepening sense to the verb that follows it. 22
There is a clear link between the terminology of Erlebnis, which first enters con-
crete philosophical usage with Dilthey, and the life-philosophy that was exam-
ined in the previous chapter, which serves as a philosophical critique of
scientific, positivist thought by privileging modes of experiencing which are in
sorne sense deeper than the rational formulations of enlightenment thought.
Dilthey attempted to articulate a form of experience that would literaIly revi-
vify philosophy. He characterizes previous philosophy of experience in the fol-
lowing manner: 'There is no real blood flowing in the veins of the knowing
subject fabricated by Locke, Hume and Kant, but rather the diluted lymph of
reason as mere inteIlectual activity. ,23
Erlebnis can be characterized by three different elements. 1t refers to a form
of experience that moves beyond subject and object differentiations, in the
direction of a more primordial concept of experience as 'lived experience'
prior to subject and object distinction. This primordial concept of experience
can be configured in epistemological terms, as it was largely by Husserl, in
terms of an originary unit y of intending consciousness and intended object, or
as a form of embodied 'being-in-the-world' which is foundational for aU forms of
cognition. Therefore, whilst Heidegger was hostile to the linguistic usage of the
concept of Erlebnis, the account given of tool use as readiness-to-hand, and of
a general 'being-in-the-world' as a prepredicative form of existence, is one
element of this concept of lived experience as somehow beneath aIl subject-
object differentiation. 24
The second form of Erlebnis is that experience, either as revealed in terms of
religious experience or in terms of aesthetic or surrealist experience, which
would move beyond everyday forms oftemporality and continuities of chrono-
logical time and personal identity over time. There is a sense of this experience
in Heidegger's account of an authentic appropriation of certain fundamental
moods which open up the possibility of the experience of different forms of
34 Adorno's Concept ofLijè
temporality as a projection into the future. One could also think of the Bergso-
nian concept of durée as an access to a different and deeper relation of lived
experience. Benjamin was particularly hostile to this concept of Erlebnis in
terms of its incarnation in the philosophies that encouraged a form of war
experience as a heightening of the experience of life, as demonstrated in the
early philosophies of Buber andJünger.
However, despite this attempt to distance himselffrom a concept of Erlebnis
as a transcendent experience ofheightened life beyond the everyday, Benjamin
was not averse to attempting to delineate forms of experience which might dis-
solve and explode traditional concepts of the continuities of experience and this
ambivalence gives a certain dialectical tension to his account of the movement
from Erfahrung to Erlebnis.
The final element of Erlebnis is its mode as a form of apprehending an origin-
ary unit y or a transcendent experience. This mode has its extreme cognitive
form in the transcendent al epochë that is outlined in Husserlian phenomenol-
ogy, a form of bracketing out of social, historical and personal constructs to
achieve a presuppositionless attitude towards the appearing of phenomena.
This bracketing out is conceived as a tension between a regulative ideal of a cer-
tain experiential methodology and an actual practice of bracketing as lived
experience. Adorno's hostility to the concept of Erlebnis is largely, but not exclu-
sively, waged through an attack on this concept of a lived experience as a pre-
suppositionless attitude towards the apprehension of subject-object relations.
Adorno's critique of the concept of Erlebnis occurs in his metacritique of episte-
mology and is largely concerned with the problem of the given in philosophy.
and, particularly how this is structured in phenomenology. We will give a
further account of this critique in the next chapter, when Adorno's critique of
phenomenology is outlined.
Erfahrung is primarily differentiated from Erlebnis by its relation to history
and tradition. Erfahrung is the experience that is acquired through 'memory
and expectation'. 25 Experience, in these terms, is thoroughly mediated by its
context and the forms of its transmission. I t is aiso an undergoing, a process of
acquiring knowledge that is transmitted through passive reception rather than
scientific experimentation. Experience is not about constant confirmation but
about the assimilation ofthwarted expectations. Experience in this sense, then,
is not something that stands outside oflife, but is integrated into the life of com-
munities through memory, tradition and shared culture. The key components
of Erfahrung are an authority to the experience that is transmitted, a culture that
is able to communicate that experience, and a culture within which that experi-
ence can be shared, remembered and transmitted.
Erfahrung also has a more limited sense as the description of the cognitive
experience involved in judgement and knowledge. The process in empiricism:
whereby a unified subject orders and classifies the raw data of experience, is a
process that can be termed experience as a whole. This experience, then, is the
process whereby an inert objectivity is synthesized by a subject and raw sensa-
tions are formed into the object of experience. In sorne sense, experience is
Damaged Life 35
configured here as ajunior partner to the understanding, in that, in the Kantian
sense, there is no knowledge without experience, but experience without the
synthesizing operations of subjective judgement could not be termed experience
at aIl. l t was in response to this narrowed concept of experience as a form of
cognitive subsumption that the concept of Erlebnis arose in German philosophy
in the late nineteenth century. Sorne of the problems in the opposition of
Erfahrung to Erlebnis and sorne of the different modes in which these two words
have been used stem from this opposition which bypasses the fuller social con-
tent of experience. Because Erlebnis was configured in response to the desiccated
and ahistorical experience of empiricism, it tends in its simple positing of a
fullness oflife, or a prepredicative lived experience, to reinstate the problem of
the separation of form and content instituted by empiricism but at a deeper
level. The problem of empiricism is the epistemological problem of how a
form-giving subject can assimilate the wild and raw sense data into objects
ofknowledge, which can then be said to coincide in sorne sense with objects as
they are. How does the empty form of the subject encompass the content of
matter in universal subsumptive structures that do not dissolve the particularity
of sense data in illegitimate univers ais? The opposition of a concept of Erlebnis
to such a positivist sense of forming matter into concepts or objects of know-
ledge is still consumed with an attempt to construct an ahistorical core struc-
ture to experience to which aU content must relate. This core structure or unit y
is configured in phenomenology as beyond subject and object differentiation,
but it still absorbs aIl particularity in an empty concept of 'life' or of unit y of
intentionality and given object. There is a symmetry between the two con-
cepts, because the relation ofboth concepts to Erfahrung as historical experience
is not thought.
The problem, for Benjamin, in this relationship between Erfahrung and Erleb-
nis is the place of tradition in modernity. It is the distinctive mode of experience
within modernity that it has lost its relation to tradition. Benjamin argues that
the increasing technological sophistication of society has produced forms of
communication which have atrophied the possibility of experience, in the
sense of Erfahrung. The replacement of narration by information has atrophied
the possibility of authority in the tradition of communicable experience. Along-
side this are the increasing shocks, both on an everyday basis and on a larger
basis in modern society, which do not enable the individual to assimilate experi-
ences in modern society. In 'The Storyteller', Benjamin refers to soldiers return-
ing from the First World War, without the possibility of communicating their
experience. 26 In the essay on Baudelaire, he refers to the everyday shocks of
modern city living which preclude the individu al from assimilating experience.
Using Freud's essay 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle', Benjamin cites the nec es-
sity for the human organism to be constantly alert to the parrying ofshocks to its
perceptual system. The greater the shocks are in the perceptual system, the
more human consciousness becomes an alert system which parries the shocks
that are surrounding it, and the less do these impressions enter into the percep-
tuaI apparatus and become lasting experiences:
36 Adorno's Concept of Life
The greater the share of the shock factor in particular impressions the more
constantly consciousness has to be alert as a screen against stimuli: the more
efficiently it is so, the less do these impressions enter experience (Erfahrung)
tending to remain in the sphere of a certain ho ur in one's life (Erlebnis). 27

What Benjamin argues in the essay on Baudelaire, and in the 'Storyteller'

essay, is that with the onset ofmodernity and, particularly, with the First World
War, there was whatJohn McCole terms an 'epochal upheaval in the hum an
sensorium,.28 l t is this change in experience that he equates with Erlebnis,
in the sense that with the constant shocks of city life, the hum an perceptual
organism is unable to assimila te sensations and form a stock of experience.
There is a correspondence between the shock experience of everyday city life,
the worker's experience at the machine and the bombardment of informa-
tion that replaces the processes of narration. AH of these shocks combine to
atrophy modern experience.
However, it would be a mistake to accept Benjamin's too straightforward dis-
tinction between Erlebnis and Erfahrung, and to configure his account purely as
the transformation of Erfahrung into Erlebnis in modernity. Benjamin's account
is far more an account of the destruction of Erfahrung, which leaves the question
of the possibility of a new, third form of experience open. Erfahrung is destroyed
because the process of the communicability of tradition is fundamentally
altered in modernity. There does seem to be a certain reduction of the concept
of Erlebnis at work here. Relating Erlebnis purely to the moment of perception,
reduces that sense ofan experience that escapes the bonds of tradition andsome-
how escapes the bonds of conceptual determination. Of course, Erlebnis, in the
sense that Benjamin gives it, does escape the bounds ofa conceptual determina-
tion, but purely through its complete lack of assimilation as experience by a sub-
ject. As experience, Erlebnis is reduced from that form of experience which
stands out as a more alive and lived experience from the everyday, to a form of
experience that is not an experience, because it is analogous to just a series
of jolts. Elsewhere, for example in the essay on 'The Work of Art in the Age of
!ts Mechanical Reproduction', Benjamin will gesture towards a new concept
of experience, an experience that takes as its model the reception of film. 29
In this experience, the subject do es not appropriate and form experience, or
have a lived experience which can stand outside the everyday, but passively
assimilates an experience which decentres and desubjectifies as experience.
The experience of certain techniques in film, such as montage, produces forms
of passive experience that aesthetically mirror the shocks of everyday life, but
en able the viewer to observe these effects and produces a communal, passive
and surface experience that desubjectifies and provides the glimpse of a differ-
ent form of experience. Benjamin talks about the experience of film in the con-
text of a collective lack of communal Erfahrung, which opens up the possibility
that the new form of experience could just passively order the experience of a
mass consumption, as a passive assimilation of reified experience. This is the
infamous moment of disagreement between Benjamin and Adorno, where
Damaged Life 37
Adorno emphasizes the idea that the liquidation ofsubjectivity in the reception
offilm cannot be recuperated in terms ofa subjective experience, because it has
no experience as Erfahrung to rely on, and therefore can just be open to the
manipulation offalse needs and false desires of the culture industry. In a narcis-
sistic form, this experience fa Ils in love with its helplessness.
The common argument shared by Adorno and Benjamin regarding the
destruction of experience in modernity is that experience as a communal form
of authoritative experience begins to wither with the First World War. Adorno
shares the assessment of the place of the subject in modernity as the loss of a
place, configured in terms of the loss of experience, and is indebted in his
account to Benjamin's account of the process of the destruction of experience
through the technologies of modernity, and particularly through the relation
of an identifying subject towards an object that is imposed through modes of
capitalist production and consumption, as he argues in the following passage
from Minima Moralia:

~ot least to blame for the withering of experience is the fact that things, under
the law ofpure functionality, assume a form that limits contact with them to
mere operation, and tolerates no surplus either in freedom of conduct or in
autonomy which would survive as the core of experience because it is not con-
sumed by the moment of action. 30

A certain relation between subjects and objects encapsulated by factory pro-

duction and other mass forms of repetitive experience, alongside a culture
industry that colonizes the free time of the worker in relation to a standardized
culture ofconsumption, has caused the marrow to be sucked from experience. 31
This destruction of experience realizes its apotheosis in the forms ofbare life that
are revealed as death-in-life in Auschwitz and that Agamben develops as differ-
ent empty spaces within the context ofmodern biopower.
Adorno attempts a dialectical account of the destruction of a certain experi-
ence of a tradition in his acknowledgement that tradition dominates and
restricts as much as it enables the opening up towards the world. The process
of tradition is just as much about entrenching certain possibilities and certain
attitudes within humanity as it is about enabling the possibility of experiencing
something new. On the one hand, tradition has been handed down by the vic-
tors in history and communicated by attempting to ignore the traces of suffering
that are almost expunged in the process of the transmission of tradition. Never-
theless, without sorne context, sorne place to locate an experience, there can be
no experience. Therefore, Adorno concludes his essay on tradition with a char-
acteristic paradox:

Whoever seeks to avoid betraying the bliss which tradition still promises in
sorne ofits images and the possibilities buried beneath its ruins must abandon
the tradition which turns possibilities and meanings into lies. Only that which
inexorably denies tradition may once again retrieve it. 32
38 Adorno' s Concept ofLife
The possibilities that open themselves up in the decay of experience are twofold:
first, a new awareness of the beauty of the old forms ofexperience cornes to light
in the decay of experience itself, and, second, there is the possibility that new
forms of experience will arise that can separate themselves from the debilitating
aspects of damaged life. We have seen above how the definitive aspect for such a
negative awakening to life is through an experience of suffering as a marker or
index of damaged life. Adorno writes about this as an impulse that is beyond aIl
thought but returns within thought. Honneth has written that it must be
demonstrated within Adorno's work how 'these kinds of impulses possess a cog-
nitive content whose kernel consists in the intention or desire to overcome the
pathologie al life conditions'. 33 This sentence indicates the complexities of a
thinking of the return or the actualization of a moment of suffering life within
the decay of experience. Adorno's reliance on a Hegelian concept ofmediation
determines a disavowal of the return of any pre-reflective moment within
thought, but equally he emphasizes the soma tic element within thinking as
non-identical to any conceptual identification. Furthermore, to ascribe an
intention or even desire to such a suffering moment appears to bring it within
the realms of an identifying and objectifying process. When attempting to push
Adorno's philosophy towards an encounter with a concept of life that can be
speculatively constructed as beyond damaged life, these issues are definitive.
It is in the critique of phenomenology that Adorno attempts to disavow any
thinking of This somatic moment as an intuiting of an essence, or as an ideal
event of being. However, this critique immanently opens up tendencies and
difficulties within Adorno's thinking that point towards a concept oflife. and it
is to This critique ofphenomenology that we turn in the next dlapter.
Chapter 3

The Life ofThings

In the first two chapters, l have traced the way in which Adorno's work orients
itselfthrough a critique ofany affirmative concept oflife, but nevertheless draws
upon important elements of life philosophy whilst rejecting any fundamental
ontology. In the second chapter, l outlined Adorno's negative ontology oflife:
an ontology of'the false state of things', which gives an account of the reduction
of experience in modernity that culmina tes in the death-in-life encapsulated by
Auschwitz. The problem for Adorno's account of the decay of experience and
his critique of everyday life as reified is how to trace any route beyond such
a reified state, if there is no ultimate ontological or emphatic concept of life.
In this chapter, l will trace Adorno's critique ofphenomenology as a prelimin-
ary to posing the question as to how Adorno's account of materialism and dia-
lectics can offer a route beyond the decay of experience.
The project that Adorno shares with phenomenology and with life-philosophy
is the attempt to construct a philosophy which would not suppress or dominate
objectivity. This would be a philosophy which is oriented towards objectivity as
non-identical with the subject. Philosophy aims to immerse itself through cate-
gorical thought in what is heterogeneous to that thought without any attempt at
a complete or systematic identification. This return to 'the things themselves' is
framed by Adorno, in Negative Dialectics, in terms of its concrete affinities with
phenomenology and life-philosophy. Adorno writes that: 'We want to adhere
as closely to the heterogeneous as the programmes of phenomenology and of
Simmel tried in vain to do: our aim is total self-relinquishment.']
Adorno's critique of phenomenology will revolve around the differences
between a negative dialectical attempt to model the object through a self-
relinquishment of the subject and the various ways that different phenomenol-
ogies have attempted to move beyond subject-object thinking in an attempt to
give a better expression to lived experience. The critique of phenomenology
is important because it enables Adorno to distance himselffrom either irration-
alist or idealistic tendencies within the phenomenological attempt to return to
objectivity~ and to develop his own materialist philosophy~ which is oriented
to the possibility of objects as non-identical with conceptual thought. The cen-
tral concepts of intuition in Bergson's philosophy, of essence in Husserl's philo-
sophy, and of Being in Heidegger's attempt to move beyond phenomenology
towards fundamental ontology. are the concepts which Adorno will criticize
most thoroughly, as being reliant on a leap beyond subject-object thinking
40 Adorno's Concept ofLife
into an idealist hypostasis of thought which does nothing to restore the dignity
of objectivity. In my account of the critique of these three concepts, l want to
argue that there are important gaps in the critique, which are not completely
resolved by Adorno's materialist recasting of the traditional problems ofepiste-
mology. These gaps revolve around the nature ofobjectivity, and the nature ofa
fundamental relation to objectivity.

Bergson and Intuition

The central epistemological question is how can we get access to things as they
are in themselves. How can conceptual thought and language be secure that its
knowledge is grounded in reality rather than just structuring reality? Kant's
famous answer to this question is that it cannot have such security, and that
any attempt to move beyond objects as phenomena, as structured through the
categories ofthe human understanding leads to an illegitimate usage ofreason.
The attempt to postulate a knowledge ofthings as they are in themselves is ille-
gitimate because there is no wishing away of the subject's conceptual schemas to
reach sorne form of pre-reflective coincidence between subject and object.
EquaIly, there is no form of intellectuai intuition which can purely intuit the
nature of reality without itself being mediated by the structuring concepts
which provide the world in the first place.
However, for Adorno, Kant's solution to the epistemological problem is
skewed in favour ofsubjectivity. The aporetic concepts of Kantian philosophy
result from the attempt of every theory ofknowledge to resolve the problems of
the non-identity of subject and object in terms of a 'shift' towards the subject,
and to base aIl knowledge on the subject. Adorno thus characterizes the trans-
cendental sphere, and the history of epistemology generally, as a system of
credit which can never be redeemed, because the history of philosophy does
not recognize that the object cannot be forced to coincide with the subject, and
thus each concept fails in its identifying procedure: 'Each concept may be said
to be an IOU that can be redeemed only by a further concept. Expressed more
vulgarly, epistemology resembles the man who can only block up one hole by
digging another.,2 Kant's attempt to say what cannot be said is therefore two-
fold. First, there is nothing beyond experience in terms of a concept of transcen-
dence, but, equaIly, there is no way of accounting for the object as it is, as every
epistemology eventually rests on an identifying subject. There is an ongoing cri-
tique in Adorno's lectures on Kant of any separation of a constituens from a
constitutum, and this is related to the concept of the transcendental, which is
dependent on an idea of empirical individuality. There can be no discussion of
the transcendent al '1' without a concept of empirical individuality. Adorno
characterizes the experience of Kant's philosophy as a form ofstammering:

Ifl am not mistaken, we are looking here at the deepest aspect of Kant, at his
attempt to say what cannot be said - and his entire philosophy is nothing
The LiJe of Things 41

more than a form ofstammering, infinitely expanded and elevated. Like the
act of stammering, it is a form of Dada, the attempt to say what actually
cannot be said. 3

The truth moment in Kant's philosophy is this recognition of the limits of

reason, that human reason cannot identify its object, but this truth is immedi-
ately negated in the power given to subjective reason to subsume and con-
struct objects completely as phenomena. The idea of the thing-in-itself as the
possibility ofnon-identity has a worth, but remains completely alien to thought
and contentless in Kant's philosophy. Kant's ban on experiencing the noume-
non also reflects a social history of domination sedimented within conceptual-
ity. As we have seen earlier, the domination of materiality in the name of
self-preservation initiates a dialectic which suppresses anything that is non-
identical with the ordering concepts ofhumanity. This history of domination is
expressed phiiosophically in the Kantian ban on the experiencing of anything as
non-identical with the categories of the understanding, and with the emphasis
on a purely transcendental '1 think', as the empty basis of aIl experience.
However, there is a truth moment to Kant's restriction of the legitimate
usages of hum an reason, as it reflects the bounds within which human experi-
ence is limited through the social development of a particular form of rational-
ity, namely identity thinking. The ban on a different mode of experiencing
objectivity is a ban which is sedimented socially within concepts themselves,
and can only be overcome by a material change in society, a material change
that seems less and less likely with the further entrenchment of global capital-
ism. How then can philosophy open a space for thinking that which is different
from thought, for a form ofthinking against thought?
Bergson's concept of intuition offers an interesting experiment here, an
attempt to recast the concept of philosophical intuition from a purely intel-
lectual realm towards an intuition of a fundamental affective and temporal
experience. Although, it would be a mistake to align Bergson with the phenom-
enological movement as its precursor, the central experience ofhis philosophy
is the attempt to escape the fixity of the ordering concepts of reason and to
reconnect philosophy with the 'life ofthings,.4 His account ofhow the ordering
functions of a practical human reason fix and divide objects in ways which
disconnect humans from a different and more fundamental way of relating to
objects shares sorne fundamental affinities with Adorno's account of the forma-
tion ofidentity thinking. EquaIly, Bergson's emphasis upon the need for meta-
physics to be reconnected with experience and to search for absolutes within
the world of objects also resonates with Adorno's arguments about the need
for a metaphysical experience which can open up the possibility of the non-
identical in a material and temporally open way, rather than a metaphysics
of fixed and immutable concepts. The means by which reason can reconnect
with an experience of the life of things, for Bergson, is through philosophi-
cal intuition, but a philosophical intuition that is significantly different from
Kant's use of the term.
+2 Adorno)s Concept of Life
For Bergson, the everyday mode ofperceptual and conceptual grasping of the
world is carried out in the light ofpractical activity. This takes place primarily
through a spatializing perception ofmatter which fixes and operationalizes our
relation with the world. The Kantian synthe tic a priori forms of our cognitions
are thus recast as one mode of cognition which restricts our ability to connect
with the process of life in things themselves. Rather than mobility we have
fixity, rather than time we have space, and rather than an empathetic and sen-
suous response to the world we have the fixed conceptual grasping of the world
which artificially divides the temporal flow. The mode in which philosophy can
enable us to move beyond such a conceptual grasping of reality is an intuition
which is, in itself, a turning against the normal conceptual workings of the world
and an installing of the subject in the temporal flow oflife itself. For Bergson,
there is no means of using conceptuality to reflect accurately the mobility of
lived reality. A philosophie al intuition is therefore an operation which is at the
same time supra-intellectual, in the sense that it is a turning against conceptual-
ity, and a sensuous connection with reality itself. Bergson expresses this in the
following way:
But the truth is our mind ... can be installed in the mobile reality, adopt its
ceaselessly changing direction, in short, grasp it intuitively. But to do that, it
must do itselfviolence, reverse the direction of the operation by which it ordi-
narily thinks ... In so doing it will arrive at fluid concepts, capable offollow-
ing reality in aIl its windings and ofadopting the very movement of the inner
life of things. 5
It is important to stress then that this is not a non-conceptual operation.
It moves through concepts, but what is opened by this movement is something
pre-reflective; in terms of the durée, the unending flow of constant becoming
that is a process of continuaI emergence and creativity above and beyond
the human. Intuition then, is the process which, through the reflection upon the
operations of conceptuality, and through a reversaI in our ways of thinking,
particularly an attempt to think in tenus of duration, can install us in a pre-
reflective mode ofbeing.
Adorno's critique of Bergson opera tes at both the level of the concept ofphi-
losophical intuition and at the level of the concept of time as duration. Adorno
criticizes Bergson's concept of intuition as the creation of another form of cogni-
tion, which is dissevered completely from the conceptual realms ofscientific and
everyday knowledge. The concept of intuition that Bergson develops is an
'immediate-intuitive awareness of the living against conceptual classificatory
thought', and therefore is not mediated either conceptually or socially and his-
torically.6 It is not mediated conceptually because it hypostasizes a moment of
intuition that is a completely separate form of thinking th an that of classifica-
tory conceptual thinking. Although Adorno will share with Bergson an attempt
to use the forma tion of concepts in cons tella tions as a me ans of undoing the iden-
tifica tory violence of conceptuali ty, this is not a separa te realm of thinking but
immanent to conceptuality itself. However, it is not at aH clear that Bergson
The Life of Things 43
do es separate out intuition from conceptuai thinking in the way that Adorno
argues. The argument of a fluidity of concepts that Bergson references above
wouid seem to be easily accommodated by Adorno's argument for a constella-
tion of concepts to be constructed which can unseai objectivity.
Adorno argues for a concept of intuition that is intertwined with conceptuai
thought, but that has hardened into disuse through the emphasis upon identifi-
catory conceptuai thought within capitalist society. Intuitions are intertwined
with conceptuai thinking, but are marked out in important and different ways
from identity thinking. First, there is something passive and involuntary about
intuitive thoughts: they come to represent everything that is 'ego-aiien' in
thought. 7 However, these moments are not immediate but are produced
within a relation between subject and object. They are the material moments
of a non-identity between subject and object. Such moments that enter into cog-
nition as 'inspirations' are sedimentations of the material content of conceptual-
ity, which are 'newly remembered' in the moment of intuition: 'The cognizer is
overwhelmed at the moment of intuition and delivered out of subsumption ...
In intuitions ratio recollects what it forgot. ,8 How this recollection occurs, and
what is recollected here, is a question that needs to be developed in relation to
.-\dorno's concept of life, and it is something 1 will concentrate on in the next
chapter. However, here 1 am interested in the gaps that open up within Ador-
no's critique of the attempts to move beyond the subject-object polarities.
What is clear is that Adorno does not feel that intuition opens up access to or
an installation within an experience of continuaI unfolding time, as Bergson
outlines il.
The second major critique, then, of Bergson's concept of intuition rests on
the idea that we can postulate a concept of living as a continuaI unfolding
oftime underneath and beyond human consciousness. Bergson's metaphysics of
time postulat es an absolutism oftime as continually unfolding that is no better
th an postulating an originary beginning, or absolute foundation. This is the
first critique ofBergson's time concept, which reads it as a sort ofstrange Platon-
ism, an absolutization of becoming. This time is beyond any historical und er-
standing or comprehension, as it dispenses with any thinking of the ebb and
flow of temporality into a continuaI creative emergence. Importantly, this
do es not allow any criticai relation towards time from a human consciousness.
As Horkheimer notes, this conception only allows a concept of intuition as
;metaphysical immersion' which destroys critical subjectivity in the moment of
its intuitive awareness. 9
Such an immersion will not enable the survival ofindividuality that Adorno
wants to retain in a response to the life ofthings. In his concepts ofmimetic com-
port ment and distanced nearness, Adorno is intent upon retaining a sense of
subjective ownership in the moment of involuntary intuition, or what he later
terms metaphysicai experience. This relates to the second critique ofBergson's
concept of rime. The ide a of rime as an uninterrupted flow serves as both an
imitation of nature itself, and of second nature, of the uninterrupted yet always
the same appearance of reified life. The idea of an amorphous flow of life does
44 Adorno's Concept ofLife
nothing to situate a subject or a possibility of change within uninterrupted
becoming. The flow of life thus reverts to an amorphous and inorganic mass,
something resembling an inhuman landscape. As Adorno writes: 'Ifit (dialec-
tics) were to proceed according to the sheer flow and indiscriminate vitality
(Lebendigkeit) then it would degrade itselfto a replica of the amorphous struc-
ture of nature, which it should not sanction through mimicry but surpass
through cognition.' 10 This is the supreme assertion of the necessity ofa reflective
and mediated concept of the relation to life, through a historical process of a
changed form of cognition. However, there are two important questions which
are raised by this critique of Bergson. Ifwhat is opened up by a process of philo-
sophical intuition is not an access to duration, what is it? What is the process
stored in the object that is released by negative dialectical thinking? Second,
how does the moment of intuition, or to use Adorno's terminology, metaphysi-
cal experience, arise within the constellation of conceptual thinking. How do es
a determinate negation of reified life release the possibility of a different way of
living? There are two aspects to this question. First is the relation between pas-
sive, involuntary sensuous experience and identity thinking. Second, is the
question of how the experience of a transcendence of reified life itself occurs;
how do we guarantee that in the metaphysical experience produced by negative
dialectical thinking there is a glimpse of the possibility of a different mode of
being alongside objectivity, and how is this glimpse to be characterized tempo-
rally, as recollection, as futural possibility, or as ideal event? None ofthese ques-
tions are resolved in Adorno's critique of intuition.

Husserl: Essence and Appearance

Adorno's critique of Husserl's phenomenology is far more thoroughgoing and

persistent than his critical comments on Bergson. In fact, the continuous and
consistent way in which Adorno felt that he needed to provide a critique of Hus-
serl testifies to the importance of this philosophy as an antagonist for Adorno's
materialist dialectics.
As we have already noted Adorno's philosophical aim to re-orient thought
towards objectivity shares a fundamental affinity with Husserlian phenomenol-
ogy in its attempt to return to 'the things themselves'. However, Adorno is ada-
mant that phenomenology is a dead end in this endeavour. There are two
interrelated foci for Adorno's critique. First, the phenomenological attempt to
bracket the world and to ground knowledge in the concept of intentionality
relies on a hypostasis of a pre-reflective relation between subject and object
that is not pre-reflective at an, in Adorno's opinion. This is the Hegelian
moment in Adorno's critique: the emphasis on the ineradicability of media-
tion an the way down, so to speak. Second, the epochë results in an account of
intentionality that termina tes in a transcendent al subjectivity that is empty
of content. The noetic aspects of intentionality are emphasized over the noe-
matic, as Husserl prioritizes the structuring of objectivity by a transcendental
The Life of Things 45
subjectivity. The thing in itselfultimately disappears in Husserl's phenomenol-
ogy which is a thoroughgoing idealism. The search for the essence in the parti-
cular results in a reliance on a transcendental ego as the ultimate source of aIl
knowledge. The particular disappears in an essentialist, idealistic move. How-
ever, there are several occasions where Adorno testifies to the power ofHusserl's
phenomenology, and it is important to emphasize these moments as they reveal
faultlines within Adorno's own radicalized epistemology. Furthermore,
Adorno does not refer in his writings to Husserl's late work, which partiaIly
revises the over-emphasis upon transcendental subjectivity, and may therefore
go sorne way to responding to at least the second part of Adorno's critique.
Husserl's concept ofintentionality attempts to reframe the traditional episte-
mological question of the relation ofsubject to object. Rather th an conceiving of
the problem in terms of how our knowledge can be grounded in our senses, as
though world and subject are somehow separated, the concept ofintentionality
is premised upon the idea that our consciousness is always already rooted in the
world. Intentionality attests to the fact that consciousness is never entirely sepa-
rate from the world, consciousness is always consciousness ofsomething. Rather
than philosophy studying the various problems ofhow knowledge of the object
as it is can be given in human concepts, phenomenology studies the appearance
of phenomena themselves. The fundamental undertaking for any theory of
knowledge is to understand the relationship of an intending consciousness
(noetic acts) with their correlative intention al objects (noemas). This do es not
mean that objects cease to exist independently of consciousness, only that when
we wish to study objects, we cannot do so irrespective ofthis fundamental rela-
tion of consciousness to object. So far, Adorno would not reaIly have a criticism
ofsuch an endeavour. However, Husserl wants to ground phenomenology as an
indubitable science of consciousness, and he do es this through the reliance upon
a transcendental ego as constituting what is given to consciousness in an origin-
ary evidencing intuition. The epochë attempts to bracket out aIl our und er-
standing of the world to arrive at the grounding for intentionality, and that
grounding becomes an empty, contentless transcendental ego. It does this in
two ways. First, the eidetic reduction strips away aH of the different sensuous
manifestations and appearances of a particular object to try and arrive at an
essence or kernel of the unit y of subject-object in an evidencing intuition.
Second, the phenomenological reduction attempts to suspend the reality of the
external world, in order to arrive at an originary relation of consciousness-
world which can ground aIl appearances.
The problem with this procedure, firstly, is that what it attempts to provide
us with, access to things in themselves, are absent from the field. There are no
objects in Husserl's philosophy, other th an as correlates of intentional acts.
Now, again, given a critical twist, this is just a recognition of the non-identity
of the object with its various manifestations. However, that critical twist is lack-
ing in Husserl's philosophy. For Adorno, Husserl's philosophy fails because it
aims to return to a place in the world where aH the mediations ofconceptuality
vanish, but this is an impossibility. There is no such place. Husserl wants to leap
46 Adorno's Concept of Life
over the problems of epistemology and install his philosophy in an originary
place without mediation and reflection, but in doing so his philosophy just
reverts to an idealism of the absolute constituting subjectivity.
However, there are aspects of Husserl's philosophy that Adorno critically
sympathizes with, and these are interesting for Adorno's own critical epistemo-
logical position. The search for essences within the particulars is something
that Adorno sympathizes with. This essentiality is a response to objectivity that
overflows the concepts that try to contain it. It is not, therefore, an essentiality
that can be identified in the subject as constitutive of objectivity, but only in
the demands that an object places upon subjectivity, demands that can, para-
doxically, only be uncovered by the mobilization of subjective concepts and
responses. Adorno's definition of an essential moment in the particular is fascÎ-
nating: 'Essence recalls the non-identity in the concept ofthat which by the sub-
ject is not posited but followed.' Il
An essence in the particular, therefore is not an experience of the object as
it is in itself, but is primarily a response to objectivity, but a response that is
not purely immediate. The concept of a following of the object indicates that
there is an unfolding within objectivity that can be responded to conceptually.
We can note here, that Bergson uses the same metaphor of a following to
describe his account ofphilosophical intuition. Indeed Adorno affirms what he
terms a 'mental experience' of the essential, which has its moments of immedi-
acy and spontaneity:
... there actually is a mental experience fallible indeed, but immediate -
of the essential and the unessential, an experience which only the scientific
need for order can forcibly talk the subjects out of. Where there is no such
experience, knowledge stays unmoved and barren. Its measure is what hap-
pens objectively to the subjects as their suffering. 12
There is then here a reference to an expressive response to objectivity, a response
to suffering, yet one that can only be unsealed by a conceptual modelling of the
object. The category of suffering is central to Adorno's later philosophy and to
his concept of objectivity, and 1 will consider it in further detaillater, but here 1
just want to focus upon a moment of passive spontaneous responsivity that
Adorno emphasizes. This passive immediate response here is thought as a
result ofa mediated process ofmodelling the object, therefore it does not viola te
Adorno's argument that an attempt to isolate pre-reflective experiences is non-
sensical. However, can we consistently think this response of spontaneity as
purely the outcome of a process of negative dialectical thinking? Is it not also
something that has to ground negative dialectics, and precisely in a pre-
reflective way? In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer give an
unusually detailed account of their radicalized epistemology, an epistemology
which cannot escape subject-object thinking. They argue that any form of
perception always involves conceptuality and judgements, and that there is
always a gap between the actual object and the affective awareness of such an
object. In an attempt to bridge this gap, and to try and reflect the object as it is,
The Life of Things 47
there is a requirement of a subjective act, a projection from the subject on to
the object, a conceptual modelling of the object by the subject. However, this
aU relies upon an affective mode of being-in-the-world, what Adorno and
Horkheimer term the 'delicacy and richness of the outer perceptual world'. 13
This perceptual world can only be responded to through a process of conceptual
mediation, but that conceptual mediation in itselfis dependent upon a surren-
der 'without reservation to the overwhelming impression'. 14 This overwhelm-
ing impression must, in itself, be a pre-reflective grounded affective being-in-the
world. In Husserl's later work this is refèrred to as the 'living body (Leiblichkeit)',
that fundamental form of aflèctivity through which and in which the world
exists. 15 This is not a pre-reflective unit y ofsubject and object, but the affective
basis ofaU being-in-the-world as an activity of the body. This is an affective and
habitually entrenched mode of affective being-in-the-world. Husserl refers to it
as a 'subsoil' of the life-world, which can be enquired into as its manner of
being. 16 However, the problem with how Husserl wants to enquire into its
manner ofbeing is that he still wants to think ofit as a ground of pure self-evi-
dencing intuition which is not affected historically by changes in modes and
relations of production. Furthermore, he still relies on a transcendental proce-
dure of epochë for uncovering this fundamental pre-reflective grounding of
knowledge, although what this bracketing of experience now uncovers is not
the contentless ego of Husserl's earlier philosophy but a plenitude of affective,
yet pre-reflective relations.
However, the historical enquiry into the manner ofbeing ofthis life-world is
precisely what interests Adorno in his delineations of the decay of experience in
books such as Minima Moralia. Adorno though needs to negotiate several ques-
tions with this reliance on a notion of a surplus in the object or a return of affec-
tive moments, and often the emphasis on the necessity ofmediation curtails any
discussion of such problems. If the decay of experience is so entrenched that it
affects us pre-reflectively in our very gestures, and modes of being amongst
objects, then how do es a return of other forms of affectivity arise, or how can
there be a transformation of our affectivity? The category of suffering is crucial
here and 1 will return to this later. But, again, what 1 want to emphasize here is
that the gaps in Adorno's critique of Husserl open up as many questions as are
resolved in the criticism, and these questions relate to the problem of the con-
cept of the object in Adorno's work, a problem that we will reflect on further in
the next dlapter when we consider Adorno's materialism. However, to com-
plete this survey of the problems that arise through Adorno's critique of phe-
nomenology it is important to consider his critique of fundamental ontology
and Heidegger's philosophy ofBeing.

Critique ofOntology

Adorno's sustained critique ofHeidegger's philosophy circles around a critique

of the ontological difference between Beings and entities, between the ontic
48 Adorno's Concept ofLife
and the ontological in which Heidegger grounds his philosophy. The very
idea that the question of the meaning ofBeing can be opened up through a phe-
nomenology ofhuman existence is immediately a sacrifice of the particularity of
historical reality towards a systematic yet empty thought ofBeing. Heidegger's
deepening of phenomenological enquiry into the question of the meaning of
Being, on1y sacrifices further things as they are in themselves and dissolves
them in a postulate of a conceptless ether that is named Being. The procedure
offundamental ontology is therefore one of eliminating any material or histor-
ical content to approach the question of ontology as fundamental ground or
horizon. That this ontology is thought of in terms of a questioning rather th an
a transcendental ego does not negate the idealism ofsuch an approach, and the
ultimate violence ofthought which only uses an examination ofparticularity in
order to dissolve into the empty thinking ofBeing.
For Adorno, there is a primacy of epistemology over ontology, and a pri-
macy of the a posteriori over the a priori. As he writes, 'fundamental ontology
cannot annul epistemology at will'. 17 There is no leap to a position beyond
subject-object thinking, and any pure ontological concept is itself derivative, in
that it will bear the traces ofempirical reality as a socialized reality. Fundamen-
tal ontology is problematic in two related ways. First, it ai ms to dissolve the
mediations of conceptual thought into a primary unity ofmeaning which do es
not negotiate its own foundations. This dissolves the subjective reflective
moment ofthought itselfinto an immersion or 'hearkening' to a caU ofbeing,
which does not enable any freedom in the individual, a freedom which lies,
for Adorno in the possibility of a reflective experience of objectivity as non-
identical with thought. 18 Second, and relatedly, ontology cannot think its
relation to history. History as historicity becomes a grounding for aU appear-
ances, but is in itself a thinking that arises in a specific historical situation.
Thus, the problems that arose for Heidegger when he thought that he could
identify the National Socialist enterprise as an opening up to new possibilities
of asking the question of the meaning of Being. Such a political project is
immanent to a philosophy which cannot theorize its relation to material and
social reality.
However, Adorno does recognize a truth moment in the ontological need and
in Heidegger's thinking of Being, and this truth moment lies in the attempt of
Heidegger's philosophy to express what is inexpressible. The question of the
meaning of Being is a question that is immanent within philosophy and
expresses a need for grounding and certainty that can however never finaUy be
resolved. The central problem with Adorno's critique is that he fundamentally
misunderstands the radicalization of ontology that Heidegger proposes.
Adorno writes of Heidegger's concept of Being as a 'pure self-presentation to
passive consciousness', and elsewhere refers to it as something primary and
immediate beyond subject-object relations. 19 However, Being is precisely that
within Heidegger's philosophy that is never totally present or immediate, but
always oscillating between a revealing-concealing mode of appearance. Being
is precisely that which cannot be grasped but, in the early work, can only be
The Life of Things 49
interrogated through the structures ofeveryday life. This is not to negate Ador-
no's critique of the ultimate dissolution of every particularity into an ideal
concept of Being, which is itself contentless and has no relation to history.
Nor does it get round Adorno's general critique of prima philosophia, of an
ultimate ahistorical grounding of everyday life. However, the question for
Adorno's philosophy that he does not address is how does thinking or experi-
encing the non-identical differ from the never present, always half.. glimpsed
experience of the question of the meaning of Being. The many attempts to
interrogate Adorno's similarities with Heideggerean thinking stem from this
fundamental problem.
It is an important question, because it rais es the dual question ofhow to think
the non-identical in a materialist fashion, and, furthermore, how the metaphy-
sical experience of the possibility ofnon-identity is possible as a mediated con-
ceptual reflective experience. There is a strong similarity between a philosophy
which emphasizes a concept of the non-identical as its theoretical anchor and
normative ground, but yet states that the experience of the non-identical is
never possible, only the experience of the possibility of non-identity, and the
philosophy that anchors itselfin a questioning of the meaning ofbeing, a ques-
tioning that is never, contrary to Adorno's assertions, primary and immediate,
and never self-present, but a horizon and ground for aIl other questions.
The critical route beyond such similarities lies in Adorno's use of a Hegelian
concept of experience and his particular concept of materialism, but we will
need to address how these produce a conceptually reflective experience of the
possibility ofnon-identity that is, in a peculiar sense, neither actual nor ideal.
This immanent critique of Adorno's critique of phenomenology opens up
three fundamental avenues for further investigation in relation to Adorno's con-
cept of life. First, is the category of objectivity itself. When we find Adorno
agreeing that there is a need to unseal a process stored within the object, or
to follow the potentialities of objectivity, how can we understand what this
hints at in the nature of objectivity itself? Put baldly, what is an object, for
Adorno? Furthermore how does a conceptually reflective practice of negative
dialectics orient us towards objectivity in a way that does not result in the
dangers of an irra tionalist immersion in the life of things, or an idealist hyposta-
sis of a realm beyond human mediation? The routes to enquiring about these
questions lie in Adorno's appropriation of a revised Hegelian concept of experi-
ence, and in his account of materialism, both of which we will examine in the
next cha pter.
The second avenue for investigation is the question of affectivity itself, or, to
be more precise, a fundamerttal affectivity that returns or demands an ethical
response within reified life. How are we to think this affectivity as both an
unwilled spontaneity and as something conceptually mediated? How are we to
think the temporal existence of such an affective comportment towards objec-
tivity? Adorno variously writes of it as a return from the past, or as something
promised or futural. The category of suffering is key here, and this will be
explored further in a later chapter.
50 Adorno's Concept ofLife
Finally, there is the problem of metaphysical experience itself, and the
peculiar modality of metaphysical experience as an experience of the pos-
sibility of non-identity. The questions that arise from Adorno's critique of
Heidegger are how we can think of this metaphysical experience in material
terms, as an experience of emphatic life, even within the bounds of reified
life. This is a question that l will consider further in relation to the idea of a
re-enchantment of nature.
Chapter 4

Dialectics and Life

The critique of phenomenology demonstrates that there is no intuitive

approach that can retain the dignity of the object, without mediation through
conceptuality. Adorno's persistent theme in this critique is that there is no
simple escape from the binding concepts ofidentity thinking, and that any the-
oretical attempt to move beyond the current state ofthought must reflect upon
its own restricted nature. However, negative dialectics as a philosophical
method is a method which aims to illumina te the possibility of the non-identi-
cal, even within the current restrictions ofidentity thinking. How will a method
of negative dialectical thinking succeed where phenomenology fails? In order to
succeed it will have to provide a successful and thoroughgoing refutation ofide-
alism, but nevertheless provide a mediated and reflective access to something
beyond the binding judgements of identity thinking, but this beyond can only
be immanently conjured through conceptual thought itself. Adorno will articu-
late how this occurs through his dual reliance upon a Hegelian concept of dia-
lectical experience and a refined Marxist concept ofmaterialism.
The questions that we concluded the previous chapter by posing remain as
subterranean currents throughout this account of dialectics and life. First. the
account of how dialectical thought re-orients itself towards a different way of
foIlowing the object needs to account for what the process stored in the object
is that is unlocked by such a negative dialectical thought. Second, the affective
component ofdialectical thought as a passive moment within thinking remains
obscure at this stage, but, hopefuIly, an account of Adorno's materialisrn may
illuminatejust what a spontaneous receptivity towards objects means.

The Experience of the Dialectic

Adorno's essay on 'The Experiential Content of Hegel's Philosophy' situates

the experience of Hegel's philosophy, and particularly the experience of the
dialectic as a pro cess with no definitive absolute result, as the point in the gen-
ealogy of the concept of experience that the concept gains its true worth as
the critique of existing social reality. Adorno argues that a new concept of
experience arises in Hegelian philosophy, a concept which is produced by the
self-reflexive moment of consciousness within Hegel's concept of experience
as outlined in the Phenomenology of Spirit: 'This dialectical rnovernent which
consciousness exercises on its self on its knowledge as weIl as its object - is~ in
52 Adorno's Concept of Life
so far as the new, true object emerges to consciousness as the result ofit, precisely
that which is called experience.' 1 This doubling ofconsciousness produces a new
concept of experience in the sense that it produces an object which was not con-
sidered by Kant, 'the object of reflection'. 2 Hegelian experience is produced
in the tension between knowledge of the object and knowledge of the process
of apprehending the object as it appears to consciousness. The radical novelty of
this concept of experience is tha t i t becomes historical, in the sense tha t both the
conscÏousness attempting to know itself and the object appear and are changed
throughout history. The experience is precisely insatiable, in the sense that
there is always a moment of non-identity in the attempt of conscÏousness to
know its object, and to know itself as apprehending the object. Of course, the
pro cess of experience as journey in Hegel's philosophy culminates in an author-
ity ofexperience at the end of the process, in the resultofan absolute knowledge,
which is the failure ofHegel's philosophy for Adorno.
The self-reflection of Hegelian philosophy also involves experience as a turn
towards the object due to the failed nature of any complete attempt to identify
the object as such. This self-reflection as experience has a materialist orienta-
tion: ' ... the reflection of reflection, the doubling of philosophical conscious-
ness, is no mere play of thought unleashed ... In that consciousness recalls,
through self-reflection, how it has failed to capture reality, how it has mutilated
things with its ordering concepts ... ,3 The self-reflection ofHegelian experience
therefore has a number of consequences that are important for Adorno's con-
cept of experience. First, and in stark contrast to Heidegger's reading of Hegel,
Adorno argues that experience cannot be understood as something ontological
in the sense ofsomething that names Being, or something that is the Name that
lies before language. This is ultimately Heidegger's reading ofHegel's concept
of experience: that the concept names Being as something that is always
involved in moving beyond itself. For Heidegger, experience 'expresses what
"being" in the term "being conscious" means,.4 The corollary to this is that
philosophical experience cannot be understood in the phenomenological sense
as an ur-experience, a transcendental ground for aIl other forms of experience.
The most important lesson of Hegel's concept of experience is that it dispenses
with aIl forms of ontological or transcendental foundationalism in philosophy
through the concept ofmediation. There is no pure experience ofimmediacy,
of the object as such or the subject as such, or any originary experience that
can be appropriated as event in history. There is only the mediation between
subject and object as it appears and is conditioned by history. The important
moment in Hegel's concept of experience is the reflective moment that enables
us to reveal the non-identity between subject and object, and renew an orienta-
tion towards objectivity as such. The contradictions within thought and within
social reality are expressed by this new concept of experience which introduces a
mobility into the forms of conceptuality themselves:

The movement of the concept is not a sophistical manipulation that would

insert changing meanings into it from the outside but rather the ever-present
Dialectics and Lift 53
consciousness ofboth the identity of and the inevitable difference between the
concept and what it is supposed to express, a consciousness that animates aIl
genuine knowledge. 5

The contradiction of thought is constructed through both a consciousness of an

identity between concept and thing and the inevitable difference between the
concept and what it wants to express, the truth of the object. This is the contra-
diction of thought itself: and a reflection of contradictions in social reality, a
social reality which both expresses forms of reconciliation and falsifies them at
the same time. Adorno's corn mon example is the exchange principle in capital-
ism, which both expresses a concept of equality in the exchange of equivalents,
but at the same time covers up the exploitation in the social process that lies
behind such exchange. Contradiction, in Hegelian experience, is always a refèr-
ence to the form ofthinking in a given reality, but a form ofthinking set free, in
the sense that awareness of contradiction involves the mobility of the concept
that Adorno refers to above.
Dialectics, for Adorno, cannot be reified into a method, or a dogmatic
response to the world. Adorno's dialectical experience takes its leave from
Hegel in a certain distance from the concept of Allfhebung; the joint preservation
and overcoming of contradiction in a more reconciled reality which will even-
tually resolve itselfin an absolute truth that will be the identity ofsubject and
object. N evertheless, even in the extreme idealist moments of Hegel's philoso-
phy, Adorno reads the hope that thought and reality can enter into a different
relationship, a relationship that can only be different in relation to real changes
in social reality. Adorno does not think that there can be an appropriation of
experience either as authoritative or as an experience of grasping the whole in
terms of the historical nature of existence itself, but only both an interpretation
and a construction based upon a dialectical experience that is immanent to the
reality of a thought conditioned by society. In this sense, dialectics as the aware-
ness of the non-identity ofsubject and object is the experience ofsocial reality;
'dialectical contradiction is experienced in the experience ofsociety,.6
For Adorno, the 'central nerve' (Lebensnerv literally living nerve) of the dia-
lectic is the process of determinate negation, thus the experience of dialectics
is fundamentally one of negativity. Determinate negation as a methodology
concerns a re-orientation of philosophical analysis towards particularity, a
turning towards the object that doesn't rest with the object as it is constructed
by the categories of the understanding in Kantian terms, but attempts to undo
the damage done to the object by concepts. Adorno refers to the attempt to
'unleash the force' of the object. 7 Determinate negation, for Adorno, is a form
ofphenomenology as surrender, an attempt to approach the object without pre-
conceptions and without any reserve, but at the same time this 'immersion'
cannot occur as sorne form ofur-experience. As we saw in Adorno's critique of
Husserl, there is no return to the 'things themselves' that doesn't presume sorne
foundationalist stance. Therefore, the corollary ofthis immersion in the object
is that something in theory, or in the concept or the forming of concepts, must
54 Adorno's Concept ofLife
await a new apprehension of the object. Determinate negation is thus still a
positing for Adorno, as it must work through concepts to move beyond what
the concept identifies, and it can do this through an awareness ofhow every par-
ticular is mediated and is more than it is in terms of its presentation as object.
However, this transcendence of the object does not take the place of a higher
form ofunity or identity ofsubject and object, but is a deepening of the contra-
diction between subject and object, a deepening of the moment ofnon-identity.
The difference between Hegel and Adorno's positing ofdeterminate negation is
in the construction of a whole which is absolute rather than negative. Adorno
reverses Hegel's dictum that the whole is the true to assert that the construction
of the whole is the untrue: 'By specifying, in opposition to Hegel, the nega-
tivity of the whole, philosophy satisfies, for the last time, the postulate of deter-
. ·,8
mmate negatlOn ...
Determinate negation is therefore an attempt to re-orient identity thinking
towards objectivity. This re-orientation occurs through a dual process of the
construction of constellations of concepts which will attempt to model the
object without a complete identification of the object, and, second, and slightly
more confusingly, a spontaneous receptive and affective response to the object
itself. Throughout the essays on Hegel, Adorno refers to the 'life of things', 'pro-
cess', and 'spontaneous receptivity'. 9 Dialectical experience is then the experi-
ence ofa process which oscilla tes between a fixed and dynamic interpretation of
objects, by the creation ofnewer and more revealing constellations of concepts
and by a responsivity to the material itself as a moving reality oflife. This con-
cept of life as 'motility' is one that is central to Hegel's philosophy, and is an
undercurrent of Adorno's writing on Hegel but is never expressed or explored
directly. As we noted earlier, the thinker from the Frankfurt School, who did
explore this most directly was Marcuse, in his early and still very Heideggerean
work, Hegel's Ontology and the Theory oJ Historici~y. Marcuse defines life in Hege-
lian terms as an equality ofself-in-otherness, which is the specific form ofmotÏ-
lity which life expresses through its initiating of difference, its externalizing and
reabsorbing ofitself. As Marcuse, argues, for Hegel, the essential nature oftruth
is this specific form of life as 'motility', as a movement of differentiation and
absorption. 10 Hegel gives an account of this relational structure of life as self-
identification in otherness in his Science oJ Logic, and, of course, this account is
fundamental to the journey through the diffèrent stages of consciousness that
are described in Phenomenology oJ Spirit. The process is driven by need. Philoso-
phy begins in need, in the attempt of the living being to determine itself and
posit itself as independent of objectivity. In the attempt to determine itself as
something, the living being must relate itself to something, to objectivity, but
in this relating it raises the possibility ofits denial, its dissolution in objectivity.
This contradiction, this dichotomy, registers the need for philosophy, and it reg-
isters it somatically, as Hegel argues: 'It is said that contradiction is unthink-
able: but the fact is that in the pain of a living being it is even an actual
existence.' 11 1t is this initial stage of consciousness, as described in Hegel's Phe-
nomenology of Spirit as a simultaneous distinguishing of a subject from an objecL
Dialectics and Life 55
and at the same time a relating to that object, that resolves itselfinto a stable
self-identification in otherness, or a unit y ofidentity and non-identity. There is
something for consciousness, an object, only through this initial dual process of
separation and relation. 12 Adorno gives a critical account of this in terms
of a philosophical anthropology in Dialectic ofEnlightenment, an account that we
have considered earlier. To recapitulate here, the process of separation and
relation is resolved in capitalist society through a relation that is a postulated
subject-object identification. This is what Adorno terms domination. Why is
this domination?
The reason is because when we reflect upon the object as it is for conscious-
ness, what we come to realize is that this is not a relation to the object as it is in
itself, but an object as it is for us. The process of separating and relating to the
object is not a mirroring offinite objects as they are in themselves, but the pro-
duct of the synthesizing activity of the mind producing its own objects for itself.
The object in itself disappears from view, and the postulation of the object for
consciousness as that which is to be identified excludes the natural completely.
This is the position within which Kant attempts to build a bridge between an
empirical realm, where the objects as synthesized by the understanding can be
within the bounds of reason, and a transcendental realm, where the thing in
itself can only be thought, not known. Speculative reason is an attempt to
think the thing-in-itself, an attempt to think that which is beyond all possible
experience. Kant's grounding of the possibility of experience lies in an accep-
tance that an experience can only be the experience of the object that is synthe-
sized by the unit y ofconsciousness through the categories of the understanding.
There is no possibility of moving beyond the gap between the thing-in-itself and
the thing as it is for consciousness.
For Hegel, experience starts with This contradiction: ' ... this dialectical
movement which consciousness exercises on itself and which affects both its
knowledge and its object, is precisely what is called experience' .13 Experience
here is conceived as a process, rather than a realm, and this is the fundamental
importance ofthis description of experience for Adorno, the possibility that an
experience will develop historically and socially, and that the speculative
will not be pushed beyond the bounds of a possible experience. The process of
reflection results in the contradiction that knowledge does not correspond with
its object. The process of experience as ajourney is the attempt to resolve such
a contradiction, which will have a historical form. Rather than a resolution
of the contradiction through a delimitation of the legitimate use of reason,
Hegel's concept of experience is conceived initially as a task and thus as the pos-
sibility of a reconciliation. Adorno's critique of Hegel is that his resolution of
such a contradiction through a progress to an Absolute knowledge, in terms
ofa subject-object identity, does nothing to preserve the dignity of the particu-
lar. The thing-in-itself as object of knowledge is just subsumed into an all-
embracing subjectivity.
What Kant and Hegel share, for Adorno, is a failure to account for the self of
such a self-reflection. The self is conceived as an empty transcendent al ego for
56 Adorno's Concept ofLife
Kant which is just the '1 think' that accompanies aIl representations, but can
have no other content or even an inner content. There can be no experience of
the self: as it is beyond the spatial and temporal forms of intuition, and th us
beyond aU possible experience. This causes Kant aIl sorts of difficulties in both
his critical and his moral philosophy. However, what it is important to note here
is the formaI emptiness of the transcendental subject. l t is the synthesizing
ground of experience, that cannot be experienced. In Hegel, thought is replete
with determinations and content, but still exists as a fundamental emptiness in
terrns of its immersion in the external world. The subject of desire is full of a
content but separate from that content in the sense that it projects itself out-
wards on to the natural world. Consciousness becomes replete with meaning
through the process of finding itself and gaining recognition in the world and
by other consciousnesses. The dialectical contradictions and failures ofrecogni-
tion determine the progress of experience as it moves through different stages in
the Phenomenology of Spirit. The process of self-consciousness is the location of
itself in the world, the 'identity of itself with itself'. 14 What becomes lost in
this characterization of self-consciousness as desire is the ineliminable moment
of nature within the subject itself, the body of the subject. For Adorno, self-
reflection will ultimately be a reflection on the natural within the subject, and
therefore the subject cannot be configured as an empty law-giverfor the natural
(Kant) or a projection of empty desire for recognition (the Hegel of the Phenom-
enology ofSpirit) .
Adorno wants to retain the Hegelian account of an experience of conscious-
ness that moves beyond itself through the experience of its own contradictions.
The process of this movement will be his appropriation of a concept of media-
tion from Hegel and Marx. Despite the Kantian ban on experiencing the nou-
menon, this concept retains for Adorno a certain dignity as the horizon of
something that is always both within and beyond the subject. Adornian self-
reflection is a process in which the 'self observes: l myself am part of nature'. 15
This reflective process is still a separation, but what Adorno refuses to do is
to make this radical cut between subjectivity and nature. The process of self-
reflection is the process of a 'nature that has become conscious of itself'. 16
N evertheless, this process of self-reflection as nature becoming aware of itself,
is still a process of separation. Adorno is not arguing for sorne form ofintuition
of the natural within the human, or an appropriation of the becoming natural
within the human. What he is attempting to think is human nature as a rela-
tion between subject and object that do es not suppress the bodily element of
subjectivity. In the very process of self-reflection, we recognize ourselves as
separate from nature through a capacity for reflection.
This process of a nature becoming conscious of itself as nature is speculative
because the natural within the human has been denied in favour of a drive for
self-preservation. Adorno adopts the Freudian account of a renunciation of
instincts in favour of a civilized society, but th en poses the question as to
whether such a renunciation was worth the effort: 'In social terms, the compen-
sation promised by civilization and by our education in return for our acts of
Dialectics and Life 57
renunciation is not forthcoming. d 7 But, this renunciation cannot be wished
away. Any attempt to understand what it means to live in a different sense will
have to occur through a reflection on the contradictions inherent in contempor-
ary experience. The process ofself-reflection is therefore a mediated process and
it is important to understand what Adorno means by mediation and the dialec-
tical process. One of the difficulties is how to account for a movement of a nega-
tive dialectic, if the movement central to idealist absolute identifications is lost.
The oscillation between dynamic and static elements is in danger ofbecoming
total and repetitive stasis ifmediation is configured purely as a continuaI nega-
tive construction of constellations of concepts which always fail in a complete
identification. The dynamic, 1 argue, cornes, and must come, from a concept
of materiality and the affective, if Adorno's concept of mediation is not to be
construed idealistically.


In his essay, 'The Concept of Mediation in Hegel and Adorno', Brian O'Connor
criticizes Adorno's concept of mediation on a number of grounds. 18 1t will be
useful as an introduction to Adorno's concept of mediation to outline this cri-
tique, as what O'Connor misses in Adorno, namely the dialectic of contradic-
tion, is an important element for his use of the Hegelian concept ofmediation.
O'Connor states that Adorno attempts to use the concept ofmediation first to
solve the subject-object problem and second to outline a certain daim about

It seems to me that mediation (in the sense that Adorno uses the term) con-
flates, rather than synthesizes, two very different daims: first, a materialist
daim about the priority of non-conceptuality, and second an idealist daim
about the conceptual nature of experience. The result is that we find two
competing strands of thought which ultimately prevent Adorno from resol-
ving what he sees as the various problems ofrepresentationalism. 19

This quotation demonstrates Adorno's concept ofmediation in a negative way,

as we can construct Adorno's concept through opposition to this critique.
Adorno is not interested in a synthesis, in terrns of a sublation of contradiction
in Hegelian terms. Nevertheless, he is very interested in the concept of contra-
diction, and his use of media tions normall y serves the purpose of expressing cer-
tain fundamental contradictions. Therefore, where O'Connor reads a lack of
synthesis, there lies contradiction. My response to such a critique would be
that Adorno is not interested in resolution or solution, but is interested in the
deepening of certain fundamental contradictions, a deepening which takes
place through a process of mediation. This process does lie in the first process
that O'Connor outlines, the account of mediation through the priority of the
object, and this is a twofold form ofmediation in that it reflects on the relation
58 Adorno's Concept ofLife
between subject and object in terms ofits social and natural history. However, 1
don't think Adorno daims that experience is conceptual alone; rather dialectics
affords the experience of a dichotomy between our forms of conceptuality and
what is not expressed by these forms, the residue of conceptuality.
Adorno's account of subject and object mediation rests on an understand-
ing of the mutual dependence of subject and object. There can be no subject
without an object as the something to be thought. Therefore, 'What is known
through consciousness must be a something'. 20 But there is a further element in
this mediation of subjectivity by objectivity, in that the knowing subject itself
must be conceived in terms ofits embodiment: 'Ifsubject is not something, and
;'something" designates an irreducibly objective element, then it is nothing at
aU; even as actus purus it needs to refer to something that acts. ,21 This is the ineli-
minable material moment that Adorno asserts in opposition to the empty sub-
ject of Kant or Hegel. The priority of the object lies in the fact that an object can
be conceived of without subject, whereas a subject without an object cannot be
conceived. O'Connor reads the mediation of the object as an internaI media-
tion, a mediation 'according to its own concept', as he quo tes Adorno. 22 If the
object is mediated according to its own concept, then mediation does not
become a relation between subject and object, but can be a process of subject
and object mediation which can exist without reference to one another. The
problem is that Adorno does not have a concept of, the object that is mediated
according to its own concept, for, ifyou read the full quotation, the sentence can
be read in two ways: 'Object is also mediated; but, according to its own concept,
it is not so thoroughly dependent upon subject as subject is dependent upon
objectivity.'23 This sentence could be read in the way that O'Connor reads it,
but the comma, after the 'but', inclines a reading that means that the concept of
objectivity can be conceived independently of subjectivity, rather th an that
there is a process ofmediation internaI to the object that doesn't involve subjec-
tivity. Mediation is always a mediation of subject and object, but the object is
not as dependent upon a subject as vice versa, as it is logically possible to con-
ceive of an object without a subject, but the opposite is not true. This is, perhaps,
a tendentious argument. One is inclined to respond that it is perfectly possible to
imagine a bodiless subject, but Adorno will attempt to push this point that there
must be sorne element of the objective within the subject. Any conception of a
transcendental ego is reliant on an empirical ego, but what is purged through
the move from empirical to transcendental is the reliance on the body, and it is
this purging that Adorno reads again and again in the postulation of an empty
subject of reason. This reading is supported on the next page when Adorno
writes that: 'The primacy of the object can be discussed legitimately only when
that primacy - over the subject in the broadest sense of the term - is somehow
determinable, that is, more than the Kantian thing-in-itself, as the unknown
cause of phenomenal appearance.'24 The object must matter materially for the
subject in sorne way. The object enters lnto mediations with subjectivity
and can only be understood as such, but there is always something beyond
in terms of the object, something that is non-identical to the concepts that
Dialectics and Life 59
wish to identify them. The same is true of the subject, but what is beyond the
subject is its own objectivity, its bodily needs, instincts and desires which have
been suppressed by the renunciation of instincts in favour of the drive for
self-preservation. This is the priority of the object, in its mediation between sub-
ject and object, as a mediation both within subjectivity and external to subjec-
tivity. This is still a relation, not a mediation internaI to the concept of the
object itself. Adorno, contra Hegel, does not have a purely conceptual concept
ofmediation which does not refer to the non-conceptual. The difficulty and the
speculative experience of Adorno's materialism is to account for such an
ineliminable moment of nature within the subject.
O'Connor's second daim as to Adorno's account of mediation is the daim
that he is an idealist, that mediation refers to a linking of one concept to the
next in that aU concepts are insufficient and call for further concepts. The idea
ofa constellation is that no single concept is sufficient to express the meaning ofa
particular and therefore further related concepts are called for. O'Connor reads
this as a 'conceptual coherentism', in the sense that truth resides in a constella-
tion of concepts, and, th us this idea of mediation does not correlate with the
materialist thesis of the priority of the object in subject-object mediation.
What O'Connor misses is that Adorno's attempt through constellations is to
deepen a certain contradiction between concepts and objects. Concepts cannot
completely identify objects, and neither can constellations of concepts. The con-
struction of a constellation is an attempt to orient a shift in the rigid relation of
subject and object, as identifying relation, in a different direction or register.
Constellations are an attempt to construct a different relation which would
reveal a new possibility of the meaning of objectivity, as Adorno states, 'cogni-
tion of the object in its constellation is cognition of the process stored in the
object,.25 The constellation of concepts results From the awareness of the contra-
diction between concept and object, and is a twofold process of attempting
to destabilize the identifying rigidity of the single concept, and therefore to
unlock its relations to other concepts and other mediations, often its social and
historical conditions which are being suppressed, and the attempt to express the
meaning of the object, in a process ofinterpretation without intention, without
presu pposi tion.
Through this critique, 1 have outlined Adorno's central concept of me di-
ation as related to subject-object mediation, but this is a mediation that
involves a dialectic in the form of contradiction. \Vhat mediation reveals are
different levels of contradiction between subject and object, but this contra-
diction cannot be resolved purely philosophically, as it results From real
contradictions within society. One of the key forms that mediation will take in
Adorno will be the reflection on the social and historical form and meaning
of both subjects and objects. The process of a negative dialectics as self-
reflection is the awareness of contradiction as contradiction, and the speculative
moment within such an experience is the possibility of different forms ofrelat-
ing between subject and object which would allow the 'communication of
what is diflèrentiated' .26 As what is differentiated cannot be communicated
60 Adorno's Concept ofLife
through conceptual categories which do not allow for the communication of the
differentiated, a philosophy which attempts such a communication is caught
within the trap of attempting to say the unsayable. However, through an
experience ofpossibility at the limits of the possible - an experience which will
always be responsive to a material residue within the subject - the concept of a
speculative philosophy can survive as experience, as an experience oflife.
Adorno will depart from Hegel in the characterization of such a process as a
closed totality which has a necessary progress. For Adorno, this is the problem
ofidealism in its ultimate dominance of objectivity: that it postulates an identity
of subject and object beneath, above and beyond aIl processes of mediation.
Therefore, the hallmark of Adorno's dialectic, rather than that of necessity,
will be 'fragility': 'Hegelian dialectic finds its ultimate truth, that of its own
impossibility, in its unresolved and vulnerable quality, even if as the theodicy
of self-consciousness, it has no a wareness of this. ,2ï
Adorno's formulations about objectivity have the nature of speculation
about them, in the ordinary sense of the term, ofgroping for something beyond
formulation concretely. He recognizes this himself: 'Hegel is able to think from
the thing itself out, to surrender passively, as it were, to its authentic substance,
only because by virtue of the system the matter at hand is referred to its identity
with the absolu te subject. ,28 Nevertheless, Adorno wants his dialectical philoso-
phy to express the life ofthings through a turn to the object. Adorno's metaphy-
si cs consists in the fact that the object of speculation is material; life itself.
However, life is itselfmediated in a twofold manner, being both social and nat-
ural, and it is to this speculation about sociallife and naturallife that 1 will now
turn, in an account of Adorno's materialism.


Adorno's materialism is broadly Marxist in its orientation, but it contains

important modifications of Marx's redrawing of the philosophical concept of
materialism. These modifications result in Adorno maintaining a mixed con-
cept of materialism, a concept which contains important elements of Marx's
critique of previous materialist philosophies alongside a continued reliance
on pre-Marxist materialist philosophies. Traditionally, materialism consists in
the ontological statement that nothing exists but matter. However, as an epis-
temological question, it has consisted in arguments about the nature of the
knowledge and access to material reality. ~iarx's revolutionary approach to
materialism consisted in a rejection of such a contemplative approach, and an
important addition of the concept of the production and reproduction of life
as central to any concept ofmaterialism. Peter Osborne has drawIl up a series of
oppositions between pre-Marxist materialism and rv1arx's reframing ofphiloso-
phical materialism. 29 Where pre-Marxist materialisms configure the relation
to matter as one of a passive, affective intuition, Marx reframes it as a sensu-
ous practical, collective human activity. This involves a shift in orientation
Dialectics and Life 61

from the object to the subject, from the abstract to the concrete, from the
individual to social relations, and from matter itself to the social relations of
productive societies, what Osborne terms a 'materiality of the social'. 30 1t is
already easy to see from this list how Adorno will want to inflect this transition
dialecticaUy in a more limiting way than occurs in Marx. The categories of
individuality, objectivity, matter itself, and concepts ofpassive intuiting, are aU
retained within Adorno's materialism, alongside Marx's social reframing of
ma terialist philosophy.
Marx's mature account of his theory of materialism occurs in The Ger-
man ldeology, co-authored with Engels. It is here that Marx adapts the account
of life that we saw outlined earlier in Hegel, to emphasize the concept of
social production. Life as historical life arises through need, and through
the social production of the means of subsistence. With this production and
satisfaction of the means ofsubsistence, new needs arise, and it is with this aris-
ing ofnew social needs, that the first historical act begins in social production to
meet these needs. Alongside this social reproductivity, humans also reproduce
themselves and this reproduction takes particular social forms such as family
relations. The ensemble ofpractical, material, sensuous activity that is encom-
passed in the social production and reproduction oflife is expressed historically
in the w ho le mode of production of society as a form oflife. Marx and Engels
term this, in terms resonating with the life-philosophies we discussed in the first
chapter, as a 'definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode oflife on their
part,.31 Materialism here becomes the investigation into the mode ofproduc-
tion of a society, which includes both relations and forces of production, as an
expression of forms of social productivity. Thus, the transformation from the
natural to the social is quite total in Marx's materialism. Central to this new
materialist philosophy is an account of human social labour or praxis. Social
productivity becomes the means for the possibility of the overcoming ofsuffer-
ing and need, and of the possibility offreedom itself, which can only be derived
through necessity. Marcuse draws a contrast between pre-Marxist materialism
and Marx's materialism in relation to the concept ofsuffering, a concept which
is central to Adorno's thinking of the concept oflife as we will discuss further in
the next chapter. Marcuse argues that the pre-Marxist materialist philosophies
defined humanity in terms ofits passivity: 'Man's passion, his real activity and
spontaneity is ascribed to his passivity and neediness in so far as it is an aspira-
tion to a pre-established object existing outside him.,32 This 'distress and needi-
ness' is transformed only by labour, and it is only though labour, not a passive,
contemplative approach to the sensible manifold of intuition, that a concept of
freedom can be constructed.
For Adorno, the concept oflabour is far more ambiguous, and there is a ten-
sion between a materialism of passive, sensible intuition and one of human
social praxis. 'Vhat is problematic about Marx's materialism is the lack of
matter. There is a strong strain of idealism in a materialism that revolves
around social materiality as its organizing principle and major element of
interpretation. This does not take into account the violence intrinsic within a
62 Adorno's Concept of Life
dominating attitude towards objectivity and the truth moment contained
within a passive intuition of the sensible. For Adorno, the concept of praxis
remains undeveloped as free activity in the concept of labour alone, as he
argues: .... one could ask whether in its indifference toward its object aIl
nature dominating praxis up to the present day is not in fact praxis in name
alone,.33 The realm of necessity and neediness is always carried within the
concept oflabour itself and can never be completely overcome in a dominating
relation to objectivity. This is not to say that labour is not a necessary moment
in the transformation of human society from a state of extreme impoverish-
ment and being dominated by nature, but that what is forgotten in the sover-
eignty of human labour is the object itself, and a true praxis must return to
objectivity, 'praxis rightly understood is what the object wants: praxis follows
the object's neediness'. 34 Thus. there is a need and a truth in a passive model-
ling of the object, although this is itselfmediated by social reality, and demands
not just a philosophical intuition but comprehension in the form of philosophi-
cal reflection upon its own ordering concepts.
Labour and the social relies upon a certain relation to nature, a relation to
nature that Marx himself drew attention to. Adorno notes that Marx had criti-
cized the Lassalleans for the hypostasis of a concept oflabour as the basis for aIl
wealth. In doing so, Marx noted that human labour could not be thought with-
out its material basis. 35 Thus, any dialectics must be oriented towards two
moments within the object and the preponderance of the object. First, there
is what Adorno will refer to in different terms as nature as the somatic, as the
non-id en tic al. 36 This will be the focus ofone aspect of Adorno's speculative dia-
lectical philosophy in terms of the experience of the object. However, the other
concept is a purely immanent concept of the social relations oflabour embedded
in objects within capitalist society. This is equally as important an aspect of
what Adorno means by the preponderance of the object, and it is in this sense
that his dialectics can be seen as a form of hermeneutics, an interpretation
of objects in terms of the social meanings embedded in them, and a reading of
that social meaning in terms of the conflict of the social relations of production
within capitalism. 37 Both moments are central to Adorno's concept ofdialecti-
cal materialism. For a thoroughgoing account of how negative dialectical
thinking opens up the possibility of the object as an experience of the non-
identical it is useful to explore briefly the debate between Adorno and Walter
Benjamin as to the nature of a dialectical materialism.

Construction, Interpretation, Expression

In the famous correspondence from November to December of 1938 between

Benjamin and Adorno concerning the methodology of a dialectical material-
ism, Benjamin locates the substantive issue as one of construction within the dia-
lectic: ' ... the problem is one of construction. 1 believe that speculation can start
its necessarily bold flight with sorne prospect ofsuccess only if, instead ofputting
Dialectics and Life 63
on the waxen wings of the esoteric, it seeks its source ofstrength in construction
alone.,38 Benjamin's argument is in response to Adorno's well-known critique
that the study of the Arcades project, and the study on Baudelaire in particular,
stands at 'a crossroads between magic and positivism', as Benjamin's immersion
in the cultural and social artifacts of capitalist existence in nineteenth-century
France relates these superstructural elements too immediately to the base of
capitalist economics. There is no process of mediation between the objects
of study and the social elements that are embedded in them. 39 Adorno is not
referring here to sorne orthodoxy of a dialectical mediation that Benjamin is
departing from; as he states himself, this problem of the construction of the dia-
lectic is one that he is grappling with and has not resolved. 4o The shared meth-
odology is that dialectical thought begins with everything discarded by Hegel;
the particular, the transienL the fragmentary. It is through the immersion
in objectivity that the subject is dissolved and can come to an experience of
elements of the object which can escape the reification of a subsumptive, iden-
tity thinking. This experience of immersion is a form ofsurrender to the object
by a subject that attempts to suspend its identifying procedures through such a
surrender. This initial attempt of an experience of immersion is presupposi-
tionless in the sense that it aims to uncover the meanings inherent in the object
itself through a passive assimilation rather than an aggressive identification.
The experience of immersion has a strong affinity with aesthetic experience in
this initial suspension and approach to the object as inherently meaningful.
It also has a certain affinity with phenomenology in the sense ofan attempt to
approach the meaning of 'things themselves', but, as we have seen, Adorno's
phenomenological procedure is more Hegelian than H usserlian in that it refuses
a transcendental subjectivity that performs an epochë, and instead relies on an
initial dissolution ofsubjectivity into the meaning of the object itself.
The question of construction is how the subject emerges again, as a critical
subject, beyond the experience of immersion. But what is this experience of
immersion? Immersion is a process of desubjectification that occurs through
an intellectual experience that registers bodily. This desubjectification is never
total though; it is a self-relinquishment, a retaining of the self in the moment of
its dissolution, rather than a complete immersion. One could think of it as a
letting-go. We have to be careful of the terminology of immersion; Adorno's
phrase' anschmiegen' often gets translated as immersion but it more accurately
means a nestling or snuggling up against something, precisely a closeness
which still retains a separation and distance. This is perhaps not far from a self-
identification in otherness, but there is an attempt to lose the strong sense of
self-identification here. This is a point in Adorno's thought where the demand
for coherence starts to seep in. How is this immersion coherent when it con-
tains such a range of confused categories? The easy answer, and to an extent the
correct answer, is that coherence is not the issue, as what is precisely produced
through such an immersion in the object is the blurring and deepening of aIl of
the contradictions that the demand for coherence wants to keep separate, dis-
tinctions such as subject and object, body and mind, and theory and practice.
64 Adorno's Concept ofLife
This still doesn't give us an account of the conditions for the practice ofsuch an
immersion in objectivity.
One of the forms of such a practice rests on the constella tion of concepts tha t
attempt to produce a different relation between subject and object, without a
final identification of the object. Through a constellation, the subject is still
ineliminably differentiated from object, in the use of conceptuality, but con-
cepts are destabilized as pure identifications in their relation to other concepts,
often in a relation of parataxis, contradictions being expressed as different
clauses within one sentence. However, for this to matter materially there must
be an elaboration of how this conceptual constellation affects the object, and
Adorno attempts this through a concept of embodied thought.
The germ of the argument between Adorno and Benjamin concerning the
concept of construction becomes clouded because of Adorno's later adoption of
many ofBenjamin's conceptual terms for the process or experience of construc-
tion (such as concepts of constellation and redemption); however, the difference
does lie in a certain concept of dialectics, and rests here on distinctions between
concept and image to which we now turn.
Adorno and Benjamin's shared aim is to turn towards the object of reified
culture or society and attempt to release that object from its ensnarement in
the form of a rigid thinking, without subsuming the particular under a univer-
saI. The turn towards the object in dialectical thinking is a shift of emphasis
between particularity and universality in that the universal appears only
through the particular and is captured only fleetingly. Through a certain
immersion in objectivity, the reified objects of capitalist culture and society
can be released from the grip of conceptual subsumption and figure a new con-
cept oftruth. The question for Adorno is the grounds for the possibility ofsuch a
reflection. In an apt metaphor for the dialectics at a standstill, he outlines this
procedure as follows:

In its microstructure Hegel's thought and its literary forms are what Walter
Benjamin later called 'dialectics at a standstill' comparable to the experience
the eye has when looking through a microscope at a drop ofwater that begins
to teem with life; except that what that stubborn, speIlbinding gaze falls on is
not firmly delineated as an object but frayed, as it were, at the edges. 41

What is interesting about this metaphor is the place of the subject. The immer-
sion into an object is what Adorno would term elsewhere a 'distanced near-
ness' .42 The object is viewed without presupposition but from a position in
which the subject still has a differentiated subject position. The purpose of the
immersion in objectivity is to set into play the sedimented contents of such an
object which have been reified within capitalism. Those contents will be both
natural and historical: both processes of social labour reified into natural reali-
ties as second nature by capitalism, but also the moment of the somatic,
of the na tural in trinsic to the processes of social la bour. This is the first sense of
the speculative move in this materialist dialectics, the idea of a dialectics as a
Dialectics and Life 65
resuscitation, a bringing to life of the object ofstudy, which can only be accom-
plished through a diflerent attitude to objectivity. However, to be successful,
this resuscitation must involve a certain construction of the material, a theory
must await this experience ofimmersion. There is a strong tension here between
a dissolution of subjectivity and its preservation, a tension that is stressed differ-
ently by Benjamin and Adorno. For Benjamin, the important moment of con-
struction is the experience of the immersion in the object as a closed object of
reified life, in the letters to Adorno, he refers to it as a 'monad' .43 This construc-
tion in Benjamin is the interpretation and relation of aspects ofreified existence
which as reified forms of culture can, in the construction oftheir relation to the
possibilities stored within them but not developed, open up possibilities that
have been missed and prefigure forms of redemption. The experience of the
object as a dialectical image produced through the presentation of textual
material is the experience of the truth moment covered over in capitalism. The
process of construction in Benjamin is presentational in the sense that the array
of direct quotations, or the relation between disparate and diffuse elements of
culture, fonn an image which can be assimilated either consciously or uncon-
sciously. In this regard it is interesting to contrast the reading that Benjamin
gives to the images of surrealism as 'profane illumination' with Adorno's
account ofsurrealist images. 44
I t is the concept of a 'profane illumination' that Benjamin uses in his essay on
surrealism which elucidates both the similarity and difference in Adorno's and
Benjamin's usage of dialectical images. 45 In surrealist images, there is a displa-
cement or refusaI of identificatory meaning in favour of an experience before
meaning, of a threshold where image and language take precedence and desta-
bilize any conception of meaning or the subject. The subject is destabilized
through this experience of surrealist images so that the difference between
waking and sleeping is worn down. This is not just an experience ofintoxica tion,
although certain experiences of intoxication may prefigure, in a problematic
way, such a 'profane illumination,.46 Benjamin describes the mechanism on
the selfin such an experience as a form of dream experience which 'loosens indi-
viduality like a bad tooth' .47 These surrealist images provide models for the dia-
lectical images Benjamin wants to construct through the presentation ofobjects
and quotations in new and distinct configurations. The presentation of such
constellations will give an image-idea of collective possibilities which have
been suppressed, particularly in forms oflife growing old.
Adorno was critical ofthis dream element of the dialectical image that Benja-
min drew from surrealism. This critique relates to Adorno's own account ofsur-
realist images. The relation of dialectical images to dreaming rem oves the fetish
or reified character of the objects or concepts formed in a constellation. For
Adorno the important aspect of the reception of the image in the attempt to
assimilate it is not its analogues in dream experience, but the dual element of
both fearing and desiring what is revealed as alien, as dead. The presentation
of the dialectical image as constellation is a presentation of something that
enables it to be read as a reified existence, something that provokes the subject
66 Adorno's Concept ofLijè
in fear and also desire to oscillate as a subjectivity in a form of tension. One pole
ofthis oscillation is the reification of the ego as the subject in 'full control ofitself
and free of aIl consideration of the empirical world', which then reveals itself as
the other pole, as something dead. 48 Thus the dialectic in the reception of the
dialectical images of surrealism is thoroughly negative. l t is a dialectic through
which the subject as supposedly free attempts to approach the image in terms of
both fearing and desiring it, and finds its reflection in an image of death, as lack
of life itself, this rigid separated ego, without any possibility of movement or
change. As Adorno argues: 'The montages of Surrealism are the true still lives.
In making compositions ofwhat is out ofdate, they create nature morte.'49
The dialectical force of the fetish character of the object is displaced by
attributing a concept of the dream character to the dialectical image, a dream
character which falsely invests the image with a possibility for instigating
unconscious identifications in the subjective reception of the dialectical image.
Adorno's critical force is thus targeted against what he fears is a concept of the
collective unconscious within Benjamin's work, which he sees as a means of
synthesizing the reception of the dialectical image in consciousness through an
immediate identification of possibilities which are brought to light in the pre-
sentation ofthe dialectical image:

The idea of the collective consciousness was invented to distract attention

from true objectivity, and from alienated subjectivity as its correlate. Our
task is to polarize and dissolve this 'consciousness' dialectically in terrns of
society and singular subjects, not to galvanize it as the imagistic correlate
of the commodity character. 5o

Ber~amin responds to this critique by emphasizing the importance of a con-

ception of'dream figures' within the dialectical image, particularly in terms of
an act of awakening, an awakening in which the image appears. l t is this sense of
immersion in the objects or concepts that are formed in a constellation which
can produce the image in a moment of awakening which is the experience of
the image. The dialectical image is not the construction of the constellation~
but the experience of this constellation as possibility, as awakening. This do es
not me an that a theory ofreception may still be needed and that the idea of the
collective consciousness is only one attempt at this, as Benjamin argues:

The dialectical image does not merely copy the dream - l never remotely
intended to suggest that. But, it does seem to me that the former contains
within itselfthe exemplary instances, the irruptions ofwaking consciousness,
and that it is indeed precisely from such places that the figure of the dialecti-
cal image first produces itselflike that of a star composed of many glittering
points. Here too, therefore, a bow needs to be stretched, and a dialectic
forged: that between the image and the act ofwaking. 51

The problem for Adorno is how such a dialectic could be formulated.

as it seems to be beyond subject and object mediation. It appears to need a
Dialectics and Lijè 67
mediation between an 'experience without a subject' and an image that appears
at the same time as its reception. 52 For Benjamin, the experience of the dialec-
tic al image produced through the conceptual construction of the material
becomes an experience of something beyond subject and object mediation, an
image that flashes up and th en consumes itselfin its reception. There is a certain
relation to a concept of Erlebnis here, obviously not the concept that Benjamin
oudines in terms of information and surface experience, but the concept of an
experience which changes aIl other forms of experience, the experience which
transforms both the temporality of experience (it is not experienced as a conti-
nuit y) and the subject-object relation within experience (this is dissolved).
What Benjamin acknowledges is that there is no route back from such an
emphatic dissolution of the subject in the dialectical image, there is not a
second moment of theorization. The tension in the debate between Adorno
and Benjamin, then, rests on this question as to whether the experience of
immersion can be recuperated as a subjective experience, or must be und er-
stood as fundamentally an experience without a subject. Despite Adorno's invo-
cation of Benjaminian themes in his later writings, wh en he oudines a
conception of the dialectical image, it is always inflected negatively, and in the
sense of something that can negate the current experience of reification rather
than offer a positive image ofredemption. This is Adorno's minimal description
of the dialectical image in his lectures on metaphysics: ' ... it is a condition of
metaphysical experience that it can miss the mark, that it can be quite wrong,
and that, on the other, it requires an objective moment, antithetical to it and
incapable of being assimilated to it - that these two motifs together form the
dialectical figure, the dialectical image. ,53
Adorno's formulation of the dialectical image here is twofold. First, in terrns
of its fragility, that it is always vulnerable to failure. This is the element that
Benjamin refers to as catastrophe, that the opportunity ofmetaphysical experi-
ence may be missed. This is not a presupposition of the dialectical image in
Benjamin, but a danger that it is fundamentally unstable, and that the right
configuration may not be traced to produce the experience. The second charac-
teristic that Adorno maintains is that this experience remains a mediated
subject-object experience, that there must always be a moment of something
ineliminable, or material, ev en within the metaphysical experience. This is spe-
cifically what Benjamin was attempting to move beyond with his concept of
speculative experience, either configured through the dissolution of the subject
in experience, or the dissolution of the subject into a collective subject, or the
attempt to dissolve the antinomy between knowledge and perception through
the production ofimages which could be the foundations ofan emphatic experi-
ence, that in itself could serve as the motor for revolutionary experience.
In the above discussion l have concentrated on the construction and interpre-
tation of the life in objects and the attempt at a dialectical experience to bring
those objects back to life. The natural element within this dialectics relates to
the speculative concept of an expressive philosophy, which leads on to the non-
conceptual in terms of the somatic. Expression here becomes the expression of
68 Adorno's Concept ofLife
an inelimina ble material moment within thought. How can we give any content
to this moment oflife in things, in terms of an expressive philosophy? The ques-
tion of the possibility of an experience of the non-identical is never fully theo-
rized by Adorno in terms of its epistemology. For example, is there an
experience of the possibility of the non-identical which is conceptual in the
sense ofa givenness ofmateriality within conceptuality that has somehow been
suppressed, or should we think of this experience as somehow non-conceptual,
pre-reflective or completely speculative? In the next two chapters 1 want to con-
sider, first the idea ofa pre-reflective experience of the non-identical through an
examination of the category of suffering, and then to look at the material as
registering within an enhanced and materially rich conceptuality a concept
of a natural and embodied rationality - to explore further how we can und er-
stand the experience of the non-identical, which can be seen as an attempt to
articulate an emphatic experience oflife.
Chapter 5

Suffering Life

In the previous chapter, 1 outlined Adorno's experience ofnegative dialectics as

a deepened form ofself-reflection, which doesn't result in the emptiness of a sub-
ject always beside or ahead ofitself, or a subject as empty law-giver above the
law. Adorno attempts to think the subject as a body that thinks. To be more
accurate we could call this an experience of the ineliminable materiality of
thought itself. What does it mean to call this an experience? It is a difficult ques-
tion for Adorno, as it is an experience that only occurs negatively, through the
deepening of contradictions, which cause a certain shattering of the ego in its
realization of its dependence on the natural moment it has suppressed. This
experience is then an experience of a remnant or addendum. The inability to
identify accurately such a moment is due to the different connotations that
Adorno gives to this ineliminable materiality, different connotations which
may serve as a model for a constellation of concepts that try to express some-
thing that cannot be easily conceptualized, but nevertheless cause certain diffi-
culties in attempting to understand this life ofthings.
At one level, Adorno emphasizes this materialism as a logical implication of
all thought, a certain emphasis on the reliance of all ontological categories on a
material 'something'. Adorno tends to assert this rather than argue for it. So he
states: 'There is no Being without entities. "Something" - as a cogitatively
indispensable substrate of any concept, including the concept ofBeing - is the
utmost abstraction of the subject-matter that is not identical with thinking, an
abstraction not to be abolished by any further thought process.' 1 This is no more
than the Kantian thing-in-itself, in the sense that there can be no concepts with-
out intuitions. Adorno needs more than a noumenon, he needs a material
moment as the noumenal which can matter for thought, that can be experi-
enced rather thanjust conceived.
To try and rectify this Adorno argues for a form ofthought that is not funda-
mentally divided from affect. The motive for thought itself, rather than a will as
transcendent al ego, will be related to pleasure and need. Pleasure and need are
not separate from thinking but are the motor, or the unrest that drives thinking.
The primary drive for such a thinking is the suffering of the body, the physical
moment within thought that is registered as a lack ofbodily fulfilment. Think-
ing is therefore deeply motivated by the suffering body.
But why is the body suffering? To answer this question Adorno moves to the
theory of Freudian psychoanalysis. The history of civilization is the history of a
70 Adorno's Concept ofLijè
renunciation ofinstinct in favour ofsocietal happiness. But in the historical form
that such a renunciation has taken, in capitalist society, the subject experiences
this renunciation as a loss. The supposed gain from individual renunciation is
not worth the repression. What lives on in the subject are th en the sexual
instincts that are suppressed in favour of a drive for self-preservation in the pro-
gress of civiliza tion.

The Addendurn

We have seen in chapter 1 how Adorno gives a more nuanced account of this
repression of sexual instincts in favour of civilization, in the sense that what is
prior to the ego, in terms of instinctive drive, can be just as destructive as it
is liberating. Adorno's account of civilization is not a straightforward account of
a renunciation of instinct, in the sense that enlightenment is a necessary and
progressive process of separation from dominating nature; however it is in the
form of such a separation that an entwinement with nature is lost. In terrns of
this conception of the ineliminable materiality ofthought, Adorno refers to it as
the 'impulse before the ego', and he calls for an 'anamnesis of the untamed
impulse that precedes the ego,.2 This concept of a remembering, or bringing
back into the present something fundamentally lost is therefore one past-
oriented way ofreviving a concept oflife before repression. The concept of ana-
mnesis suggests that such an untamed impulse resides somewhere within the
subject, unchanged by history.
Furthermore, Adorno will write about the addendum as the result ofa certain
experience ofnegative dialectics, as a residue ofwhat remains after the determi-
nate negation of the conceptual categories. Such an experience is the experience
of a 10ss of ego, but nevertheless a desubjectification which doesn't result in the
merging of subject and object. Such an experience is registered physically as
both fear at the 10ss of ego, a certain vertigousness, but also in experiences
which don't fulfil themselves. The paradigmatic experience in this sense, for
Adorno, is happiness. What is constitutive of such experiences is an opening: a
possibility that the subject may exist in a different relation to objectivity, but
this cannot be formulated as a completed outline of a fulfilled experience of
life, as it occurs at the very limits of the possibility of experience as defined by
the social form in which experience takes place, the society of capitalist
exchange. This is not a transcendental experience, in terms of a form of ration-
ality that would lie beneath or beyond identity thinking as its completion or
suppressed ground. It is impossible to give any account of a fulfiUed rationality.
and wh en Adorno refers to concepts such as 'affinity', he is clear that it is not:
' ... a remnant which cognition hands us after the identifying schemata of the
categorial machinery have been eliminated. Rather, affinity is the definite
negation ofthose schemata.'s
The attempt to resuscitate or gesture towards the archaic either in terms
of impulses, or in terms of a mimetic faculty that migrates into aesthetic
Suffering Life 71
comportment unchanged by the vicissitudes of history, results in a gestural
thinking of the material within thought. The problem for Adorno is to account
for this survival of an impulse, this living on within the subject of something
before the subject. Adorno defines the will in terms of a dependence on impulse
and a separation from impulse, but an impulse that always returns. This theory
of repression taken from Freud is problematic, because it assumes that the
impulse, or the Freudian drive mechanism, are ahistorical and interact with
the social repression in terms of a return of the repressed which is unaffected
historically. Adorno's argument that there is a survival of the will, a 'Nachle-
ben', within the subject, a living on, needs to have a more mediated grounding. 4
As it is formulated, at times, it is a polar opposition between an ahistorical con-
cept of drives within the subject, repressed in terms of the historical formation of
the ego.:> However, there is no detailed account of the history of the drives them-
selves in their relation to a return as this ineliminable materiality. This leads to
the gesture towards a bad sense ofspeculation, in terms ofan anamnestic recov-
ery ofimpulse which has no material grounding. Adorno writes of the somatie
impulse of the will entering into the imagination in the following terms: 'A will
without physical impulses, impulses that survive, weak-ended (abgeschwachtj,
in imagination, would not be a will.,6 There is a problem of how to translate
the German word 'abgeschwacht' here - Ashton renders it as 'weak-ended' the
term not making a great deal of sense in English. l understand Adorno to mean
here that the impulse survives in a weakened form, through a process of raising
it to the sphere of the imagination, as a need that remains as an unrest within
thought, as something bodily~ which motivates towards a different mode of
living that wouldn't repress instinctuality. This is what Adorno means by suffer-
ing driving thought:

This doctrine is easy to criticize as secretly ex pressing a naïve naturalism.

ln fact it is a last epistemological quiver of the somatic element, before that
element is totally expelled. l t is the somatic element's survival, in knowledge:
as the unrest that reproduces itselfin the advancement ofknowledge ... The
physical moment tells our knowledge that suffering ought not to be~ that
things should be different. 'VVoe speaks: Go'. Î

What is needed to give this account sorne concretion is an account of the relation
between body and thought, in terms of how the process of a survival of the
somatic element occurs, is weakened, and migrates into other modes of com-
portment such as aesthetic comportment. What does weakening mean here?
What is the process ofsurvival, and how does this survival enable us to approach
the object in order to register the speculative material experience as negative
self-reflection, which can prefigure the possibility of something other?
Epistemologically, the question becomes a question about the relation ofsuch
an addendum or external element to conceptuality itself, and how this external
element can figure the possibility of either a survival of a different way ofliving
or the possibility of a different way of living. These two different temporal
72 Adorno's Concept ofLijè
modes of thinking about the somatic moment within thought raise different
questions. First, if the soma tic moment of thought is conceived as the survival
of a past way of relating to objectivity, then it must precisely be theorized
as something pre-reflective and given in experience, but that is nevertheless
suppressed by identity thinking and can return in certain experiences which
shatter the unit y of the ego. The problem, for Adorno, with such an account is
its emphasis upon a givenness of experience which Îs pre-reflective and ulti-
mately a foundational ground. If the somatic moment is considered as integral
to conceptual thought th en we need to give an account of how conceptuality
is a thoroughgoing spontaneity of thought itself, or contains elements of such
a spontaneity. In this chapter, I want to consider accounts of suffering life
given by Michel Henry and Emmanuel Levinas as accounts of precisely a pre-
reflective grounding ofhuman life. However, this pre-reflective grounding does
not necessarily offer a givenness of experience. The experience of suffering is
precisely a pre-reflective experience which is material but non-representational
and this is both its epistemological virtue and its great danger. In the next chap-
ter I will consider the account of Adorno's thinking of a spontaneous moment
within thought as a form of an enhanced or enriched conceptual moment, which
has been developed in]. M. Bernstein's groundbreaking book, Adorno: Disen-
chantment and Ethics, in which Bernstein thinks these problems immanent to
Adorno's work in the context of the philosophy of]ohn McDowell.
Both of these approaches prioritize sorne form offoundational grounding in
life itself as a basis for recovering the possibility of a different form of living.
These are then the proie go mena to any metaphysical experience that is reliant
on a concept of possibility as potentiality, which argues that possibilities will
arise only from immanent tendencies within reality. However, these different
approaches ground their fundamental basis in opposing manners; for Levinas
and Henry, it is a moment beyond conceptual thought and representation, a
moment which fundamentally divides and surpasses representational thought.
For Bernstein, it is in an attempt to think a conceptual thinking which will
model the object in a way that enables a freer use of conceptuality itself. Bern-
stein's account is undoubtedly more in accordance with Adorno's insistence on
using conceptuality to unseal the non-conceptual, but I think that it has great
difficulties when we put it into contact with the speculative nature ofa thinking
of the possibility oflife. ParadoxicaIly, it is in the work of Henry and particu-
larly Levinas on the category of suffering that there is a recovery or anamnesis
of a past moment that can be most fruitfully connected with a speculative
experience of the possibility oflife. For Adorno, the addendum, which survives
as a somatic moment within thought but is experienced as external to concep-
tuaI thinking, is exemplified in experiences and responses to suffering life. This is
a response which contains both a recovery of something almost lost and a figur-
ing or possibility of change. Adorno writes of it as a ' ... flash oflight between
the poles of something long past, something grown aIl but unrecognizable,
and that which sorne day might come to be'. 8 I t is this dialectical interplay
between that which is past and almost unrecognizable and the possibility of
Suffering Life 73
the new that is constitutive of the metaphysical experience, but it needs a
grounding in life which is only gestured at in Adorno's philosophy, and it is to
this grounding in suffering life that we now turn.

Michel Henry: Living is Not Possible in the W orld

Michel Henry's phenomenology radicalizes the ultimate ground of any phe-

nomenological investigation. If phenomenology is the study of things as they
appear, then it needs first of aIl to account for that which things appear to, the
nature of the self. The self must be notjust thought as the ground of appearance
but itselfbe subjected to a phenomenological investigation as to the particular
mode of its appearing or manifestation. This must be an originary appearing,
not a derivative self as an ordering ego, but that fundamental experience ofipse-
ity, ofa selfbood which is not a representative identity or a thoroughgoing unit y
over time, but the self presupposed by the possibility of any experience, as
any experience must in sorne sense be conceived as having a structure ofbelong-
ing, of 'mineness'. This fundamental ipseity is not therefore related to the way
a subject conceptually distinguishes itself from objectivity, or in the concept-
ual representation of objectivity, or even in social labour upon objects; it is
far more primary even th an that. It is that which presupposes aIl these other
forms of understanding or being in the world. For Henry, the fundamental
experience of such a selfbood is the experience of suffering, and the experience
ofsuffering opens us up to an emphatic experience oflife.
Why is suffering a fundamental experience ofipseity? Henry views this funda-
mental self-experience as an immanent state of auto-affection. This means that
ipseity is originaIly affective, non-representational and immediate, but that
what it relates to is itself. There is no divide in the originary experience ofipse-
ity, there is no horizonal structure, and there is no temporality. It is a state of
'original ontological passivity,.9 Suffering is constitutive ofsuch astate ofipse-
ity, because within the experience of suffering there is no divide. There is no
point within the experience of suffering in which one can find a ref1ective
moment and take a different stance towards the experience. 1t is fundamentally
an undergoing, something which cannot be reflected upon in its experiencing
state. Second, nothing is being represented within suffering. Suffering is not a
going out towards the world in an attempt to grasp the world, but is a pure
immanence. As pain, there is a response to externality, but that externality is
nowhere to be seen or envisaged in the pure experience of suffering itself.
There is a strict identity here between the experiencer and what is being experi-
enced, but this identity is not a conceptual or representational identity, it is a
pure coincidence without representation. There is a co-constitution of affectiv-
ity for Henry, in the oscillation between suffering andjoy, in the original affec-
tive auto-revelation of life. ln the passive undergoing of suffering life, the
subject discovers its affective basis and 'delights in itself,.l0 Suffering and joy
ï4 Adorno's Concept ofLife
are thus the two fundamental affective tonalities of life, tonalities which are
immediate but not conceptually representational, fundamentally affective,
outside time, and non-relational. Life is thus grounded in a fundamental,
immanent aflectivity: 'Thus affectivity does not designate any particular
sphere of our life, it penetrates and founds as a last resort the entire domain of
action, of "work" and thus of economic phenomena, which consequently
cannot be separated from the realm ofhuman existence. dl For Henry, there is
a strange sense in which this fundamental affective basis of life is not in the
world. This is not in the sense that it doesn't ground appearances and our
access to the world, that our affective body opens us to the world, but our affec-
tive life can never be reduced to its various sensible components, as its basis lies
in an affectivity without divide, without place, without time. This fundamental
affectivity is not an opening to the world in itself: nothing appears, nothing is
shown in the experience of suffering - it is purely immanent. It is in this sense
that Henry writes of an invisibility of the flesh and that 'living is not possible in
the world', as the fundamental affectivity at the basis of aIl thought and action
can nowhere be identified, grasped or reflected upon. 12 l t is an identity which is
non-identical with every attempt to reflect upon it.
There are several difficulties with Henry's philosophy of fundamental affec-
tivity from an Adornian perspective. First, the idea of a foundational ground
which is not only not thought in relation to its historical changes, but is some-
how not of the world, deepens fundamental ontology beyond even Heidegger.
Second, the idea of a non-relational pre-reflective experience is problematic for
Adorno given his emphasis upon mediation. Furthermore, the idea of a purely
immanent experience of affectivity does not orient philosophy towards objec-
tivity but dissolves objectivity in an experience of total immanent subjectivity.
The other concern with this philosophy is its lack of a theorizing of suffering
as a significant ethical problem. At times, Henry reverts to an unabashed theo-
dicy, in statements such as 'happy are those who suffer'. 13 There is no attempt to
theorize a response to suffering, or suffering as an ethical problem for humanity.
Adorno several times refers to the work ofJean Améry on the reduction of the
body in torture as an exemplary instance of suffering. The complete transfor-
mation of the body into flesh under torture is the extreme counter-pole of a dia-
lectic which emphasizes the existence, like a beast, of an absolute nothingness of
the will. The production of a nothingness of the will in the body of the person
tortured, raped or abused results in a reduction to an embodiment without any
experience of redemption or reconciliation, as Améry writes: 'But only in tor-
ture does the transformation of the person into flesh become complete. Frail in
the face of violence, yelling out in pain, awaiting no help, capable of no resis-
tance, the tortured person is only a body, and nothing else beside that. d4 Such
an experience is then inscribed in the subjectivity of the person who has been
subjected to torture. There is no longer any place for such a subject to feel at
one with its own embodiment. This is an experience of a suffering without
divide, of a suffering that reveals nothing, but surely cannot be theorized as a
basis for affective life itself. There is nothing to be recuperated in Améry's
Suffering Life 75
account of torture, but the requirement is a response to suffering rather than a
theorization ofsuffering itselfas an originary form of affectivity.
Nevertheless, the point of reflecting on Henry's work is that the struc-
tural account of an experience of sufIering as a non-representa tional, affective
material experience, which nevertheless does not posit a relationality, has a
structural similarity to many of the experiences that Adorno will term meta-
physical. Experiences of the place-name, ofhappiness, of a response to sufIering,
of the déjà vu, of fruitless waiting, aIl share this structure of a lifting out of a
time, of an immediacy which is non-identificatory and cannot be theorized in
traditional subject-object terms. Adorno will want to produce these experi-
ences as speculative outcomes of a negative dialectical conceptual constella-
tion. These speculations, though, need to be thought, in relation to both the
recovery of a past moment and the glimpse of a possibility of a different way of
living. In relation to the category of suffering, it is in Levinas' remarks on suffer-
ing that we can further deepen this reflection, because Levinas' account of suf-
fering bears many similarities to that given by Michel Henry. However,
Levinas theorizes the experience ofsuffering as the opening to an absolute exter-
iority rather than a pure interiority, and holds the tension between suffering as
an essential affective basis for thought and the response to suffering as a neces-
sity for ethics.

Levinas: Useless Suffering

Levinas shares with Henry the goal of demonstrating how our knowledge and
experience is fundamentally constrained by our affective being in the world, but
an affective being which cannot be theorized as a given, or a simple presence in
the world. As Simon Critchley has pointed out, Levinas' work published imme-
diately after the Second World War is concerned with elucidating a series of
central experiences in which there is no divide between what is being experi-
enced and the subject of experience. The experience itself divides any separa-
tion between subject and object, but it does not do so in terms of a leap beyond
subject--object thinking, but immanently within material experiences them-
selves. The list that Critchley gives of these 'limit-experiences' is of experiences
such as 'insomnia, fatigue, effort, sensuous enjoyment, erotic life, birth and the
relation to death'. 15 These experiences relate to a movement beyond objectify-
ing thought, through which an underlying yet forgotten affective experience of
being-in-the-world can be uncovered. One of the central experiences that Levi-
nas discusses in several texts is the experience of suffering.
In a similar way to Henry, Levinas describes suffering as an experience with-
out divide, as a pure undergoing which is completely passive. However, unlike
Henry, there is a sense of deep threat and evil in this experience, precisely
because it is an experience without 'retreat'. 16 However, for Levinas, there is
an experience of a relation within suffering, although it is a highly peculiar
non-symmetrical relation, and that is a relation to death. The possibility of
76 Adorno's Concept ofLife
death announces itselfwithin suffering, but this is not a possibility that can be
surpassed or assumed in a Heideggerean sense. l t is nothing like the grounding
of a possibility of freedom that Heidegger describes. The possibility of death
arises in suffering as an uneasiness of something unnameable arriving beyond
the experience ofsuffering itself, something threatening and with the possibility
of annihilation, but that cannot be described or related to. This experience is a
dissolution of the subject that expresses itselfmaterially:

There is in the suffering at the heart ofwhich we have grasped this nearness of
death ... this reversaI of the subject's activity into passivity ... Where suffer-
ing attains its purity, where there is no longer anything between us and it, the
supreme responsibility of this extreme assumption turns into extreme irre-
sponsibility, into infancy. Sobbing is this, and precisely through this it
announces death. To die is to return to this state of irresponsibility, to the
infantile shaking ofsobbing. 17

The appearance of death as something absolutely other to the subject creates a

non-symmetrical relation to an otherness, that appears as pure alterity. This
relation to otherness dissolves the subject of any ego position and opens it up to
an experience of radical otherness. However, this radical otherness is revelatory
for the subject in the sense that in its passivity of experience, it discovers another
way of being, a definition within its own passivity rather than as the grasping
and working of objectivity. However, there is a recognition within Levinas'
work that suffering is a desperate privation of the subject, and Levinas states
that 'aB evil refers to suffering'. 18 However, the evil of suffering opens up the
possibility of an ethical relation in a responsiveness towards suffering, in the
intrinsic caU to aid encompassed by the sight of a suffering individual. There-
fore, the existence of suffering initiates an ethics. However, this ethics is funda-
mentally unstable. In Precarious Life, Judith Butler explores a similar argument
as to the injurability oflife as a basis for ethical thinking, through an analysis of
Levinas' writings on the 'face of the other'. 19 What is emblematic, for Butler, in
the Levinasian account of the face as the demand of the other, as the represen-
tative of the fragility oflife, is that it caUs forth a conflicting response; the desire
both to kill and to respect. There is no immediate inference from a presentation
ofsuffering to an ethical response, but there is an immanent demand within the
sight of suffering i tself.
Experiences such as suffering are reflections of a basic experience of an affec-
tive mode ofbeing in the world that are prior to any conceptual ordering, clas-
sification or understanding. Experiences such as suffering open us up to this core
yet diffuse ground ofexperience. Within suffering, there is an extreme privation
of subjective experience, but that privation opens us to a radical otherness that
does not determine an ethics, but can ground an ethics. Levinas writes of this
basic ground of existence as the 'il y a', the 'there is' of existence, which is not a
fundamental presence or givenness of experience, but an anonymous mode of
being which transcends interiority and exteriority. It is neither in us nor
Suifering Life 77
beyond us, but something within which we exist. There is a dissolution of a sub-
jectivity here, and also the feeling of threat, but within this experience there is
the possibility of an exp os ure to otherness which is constitutive of a human rela-
tion towards the other. To be a consciousness, for Levinas, is to be 'torn' away
from this irreducible element of the 'il y a'. 20 Certain experiences such as the
experiences of suffering can return us to a recollection of this pre-reHective
basis, due to the fundamental passivity ofthese experiences.
There is an oscillation in Levinas' account between an argument that suffer-
ing can reveal this fundamentally passive sensual relation which is non-
relational other than an opening to that which is absolutely other, and an
argument that suffering reduces the subject to a place where there is nowhere
to hide, no recourse, no escape, something that sounds very much like hello
Of course, this oscillation is deliberate, as a structural feature of a fundamental
relation to alterity, and the virtue of Levinas' account of suffering compared
with that of Henry's is that he do es acknowledge the privation contained
within the experience of suffering.
However, wh en reHected upon, Levinas' radical exteriority of affective
experience that is opened up within the experience of suffering does not have
any more plurality of content than Henry's totally immanent auto-affection.
Wi thin an affective basis for a philosophy, there is a distinct lack of an account
of the plurality of our relations with objects, in terms ofboth passive receptivity
and active enjoyment or labour. Graham Harman has pointed out, in a fasci-
nating study, that such 'carnal phenomenologists' promise a fundamental affec-
tive, and material basis for thought, but ultimately leave us without objects, a
materiality dissolved into an elemental ether. 21 Harman's critique would find
an agreement from an Adornian perspective, that the auto-revelation ofLife in
Henry, or the 'il y a', don't provide us with a philosophy which is going to be
shifted towards the preponderance of the object, because ultimately objects dis-
appear in this philosophy, so this elemental affective ether is no better than the
concept ofBeing in Heidegger's philosophy, as it simply reverts to an idealism.
However, there is something interesting and convincing about these accounts
ofsuffering life, and something that resonates with Adorno's philosophy. First,
it is a fundamentally passive concept of experiencing which is immediate but
not a postulated contentless presence or bare given. Levinas' account gives us
an understanding ofan experience within which there is no possibility for a sub-
ject to stand apart and reHect upon their experience, and he gives us an und er-
standing of both the opportunities and the extreme danger within such an
experience. Levinas argues that suffering is precisely not the dissolution of
subjectivity, in terms that resonate strongly with Améry's account of torture:
'To inHict suffering is not to reduce the Other to the rank of object, but on the
contrary is to maintain him superbly in his subjectivity. In suffering the subject
must know his reification, but in order to do so he must precisely remain a sub-
ject.,22 The danger is not of complete annihilation, but of a subject with no way
out, with no means of escaping its reduction to an experience oftorment. Passiv-
ity as both opening and threat means that the route beyond identity thinking
78 Adorno's Concept ofLife
cannot be so easily theorized as an experience that does not enable sorne form of
subject position to be retained. The danger that Adorno argues is exemplified
by the suffering ofa life in the Nazi extermination camps is precisely the reduc-
tion of a person to a form of sufièring in which there is no possibility for viewing
their own reification, a suffering which has reached such a pitch that it is no
longer experienced as suffering but as a form of death-in-life, as we saw in chap-
ter 2. Espen Hammer has argued that there is an ambiguity in Adorno's account
ofthis suffering 'specimen'; that the argument that it was only a specimen and
not an individu al that died in the camps could mean that those who died were
precisely robbed of their individual status, or that wh en the victims died their
status as individuals, as subjects within their suffering, was gone and they had
just been reduced to the status of representatives of a deadened life. Hammer
argues that there must be an either-or in the interpretation here, and that
there are problems with either approach, although he recognizes that Adorno
might want to retain both positions. 23 l think this latter answer is correct,
because Adorno and Agamben after him, whom Hammer also mentions in this
context, argue that it is precisely in the camps that a form of existence is pro-
duced for the first time that is an extreme suffering which cannot experience its
own suffering. This is precisely the apotheosis of the evil in the camps: that it
produces such a bare life, which cannot be identified any more as life. This is
not to say that these people did not suffer, just that a form of suffering reveals
itselfhere where there is no expression ofit as suffering, precisely in the existence
of the Muselmann. This reveals the truth moment in the registering of suffering
that Levinas talks about, and that there is the possibility of a form of suffer-
ing which cannot express itself. Agamben's book on Auschwitz is supremely
ethical in this sense, in attempting to bear witness to a suffering that cannot
express i tself. 24
However, there is something about this fundamental passivity of experience
which offers a completely different and new way ofbeing alongside objectivity,
and gives a basis that is involuntary and embodied to our conceptual experience
of ourselves and what is beyond ourselves. 25
The bearing witness to and recollection of suffering is therefore a central com-
ponent of an attempt to move beyond reified life. This is not to hypostatize suf-
fering as in itself the passive undergoing of experience as life itself, which
Henry's philosophy does. The question is the relation between a structural
experience within which there is no divide between the experiencer and the
experienced, and how these experiences open us up to a different way ofrelating
to objectivity, and a responsiveness towards the suffering contained within a
conceptual procedure of identity thinking. Concepts contain, sedimented
within themselves, the suffering which is an expression of the violence done
towards objectivity in the name of self-preservation. Adorno, therefore, would
agree with Levinas' statement that 'what counts is the idea of the overflowing of
objectifying thought by a forgotten experience from which it lives,.26 This for-
gotten experience, in sorne sense, is a fundamentally passive experience of objec-
tivity, although Adorno would not want to conceive it in either the purely
Suffering Life 79

immanent or transcendent terms that Henry and Levinas outline. What

Adorno needs in relation to a concept oflife is a coherent account ofthis relation
between a past-oriented recollection of a fundamentally affective and non-
dominating relationality with objectivity, that is yet figured in a speculative
experience that can re-awaken suppressed possibilities. However, Adorno
wants to daim this as fundamentally mediated by conceptuality.

Suffering Physical

What is missing in the phenomenological accounts of suffering is the historical

progression and sedimentation of suffering within capitalist society. For
Adorno, the category of suffering also refers, in a traditional Marxist sense, to
a superfluous suffering in societal terms. The conquering of need within capital-
ist modes of production should enable a lessening ofsuffering in society, but the
exploitation and the denial of non-instrumental human needs within capitalism
perpetuates a suffering that is no longer socially necessary. Socially necessary
suffering would be that suffering which drives humans to move beyond the posi-
tion ofbeing dominated by the natural necessities oflife to the position where
they can adequately reproduce the means oftheir subsistence. What Raymond
Geuss has termed the concept of 'historically superfluous suffering' plays an
important role in Adorno's understanding of the category of suffering, which
in itselfhistoricizes this category in a way downplayed in the accounts we have
considered earlier. 27 The measure of a self-reflective experience which can rea-
lize the possibility ofnon-identity is the experience ofsuffering within the indi-
vidual. This suffering is registered as a loss of a living relation to objectivity and
the world, but also as the objective markers of suffering from exploitation within
capitalist society. There is no invariant structure of life which can then be
invoked as a basis for experience. Adorno is quite dear that any recourse to a
concept oflife as something beyond and untouched by the historical vicissitudes
of experience has two main problems. First, in the postulation of a life beyond
reified society, there is the invocation of something absolutely other, the possi-
bility of a different mode ofbeing, which becomes just a consolation for thought.
As he argues:

Thus even concepts abstract enough to seem to approach invariance prove to

be historic. An example is the concept of life. While life keeps reproducing
itself under the prevailing conditions of unfreedom, its concept by its own
meaning presupposes the possibility of things not yet induded, of things yet
to be experienced - and this possibility has been so far reduced that the word
'life' sounds by now like an empty consolation. 28

Here, Adorno gives a resolutely Marxist definition of the concept of'life' which
refers purely to a social materiality rather than to anything underlying the
social. The postulation of a concept of life beyond the social productivity of
80 Adorno's Concept ofLife
humanity, then, has a second problem, as the mimesis of an irrational reifica-
tion intrinsic to capitalist society. The forms of social productivity within capit-
alism take on the air of an invariant form oflife, and are opposed in their turn by
the invocation of an abstract invariant concept in the form of the concept oflife
in Lebensphilosophie. Adorno makes the strong claim that if society were struc-
tured differently, th en individu aIs would 'no longer be passively buffeted by
the ominous storms of life'. The concept of life would then be consigned to the
philosophical dustbin: 'The so-called "life" would vanish then, and so would
the fatal aura with which the fin de siècle surrounded that word in the industrial
age, tojustify its wretched irrationality.,29
This unabashed Marxist position contradicts sorne of the writings we ana-
lysed in the previous chapter, as to the ineliminability of a relation with objec-
tivity that is not purely determined by social labour. Adorno would not seem, at
other points in his writings, to have felt that Marx's materialism exhausts the
difficulties of a relation between subjectivity and objectivity. Indeed, the writ-
ings on physical suffering are an attempt to circle around and reframe the ques-
tions of the relations between concepts and intuitions, and between the body
and thought. What Adorno does with the emphasis on the social is emphasize
that any natural moment or basis, must in itselfbe historicized as a form oflife
within a particular mode of production, but that does not mean that its features
are exhausted by a description ofhow it appears within a mode of production or
a historical form of life. An interesting account of this is given in Dialectic of
Enlightenment, where Adorno and Horkheimer write about the sense of smell. 30
The sense of smell is a structurally similar experience to what was described by
Henry in the experience of suffering, precisely because in smelling there is no
objectifying moment, there is precis el y no distinction between the experi-
encer and the experienced. It is precisely because of this immediate, but non-
objectifying experience that smell becomes something of a 'disgrace' in civilized
society. It is thought of as a merging with animality, of a lower form ofbeing.
Therefore, the only way it is possible to smell within advanced capitalist society
is to reify the experience thoroughly, and to attempt to deny the experience in
its act. Adorno and Horkheimer describe this in terms of the 'sniffing' out ofbad
smells, which is legitimate as a denial of proximity, but contains within it the
only way of experiencing the 'snuffiing which takes its unrationalized pleasure
in the smell itself'. 31 1t is not, therefore, that this experience can return us to an
originary sense of immersion with nature, in a dog-like sniffing of our environ-
ment. The separation from nature is a necessity for freedom. But in that separa-
tion, the denial of our nature means that even the most undivided of our senses is
thoroughly infiltrated with prohibitions and sanctions, and cannot be experi-
enced without a form of shame or the bad faith of sniffing in the form of trying
to identify the bad smell.
Even the most core and basic modes of our affective ways ofbeing in the world
are infiltrated by the denial oflife within capitalist society. However, the route
beyond such a mode ofbeing is not through a return to a historically invariant
form offundamental affective existence but through the possibilities that arise
Suifering Life 81

within the historical development ofhuman existence itself, but these possibili-
ties must in their turn refer to a fundamental affective form oflife.

Merleau-Ponty: Distanced Nearness and Reversibility

One example ofsuch an approach would be to try and think Adorno's concept
of'distanced nearness' in terms ofwhat Merleau-Ponty has termed the bodily
experience of 'touched-touching'. 32 The concept of the 'touched-touching'
arises from a reflection on a particular bodily experience. If 1 touch my left
hand with my right hand, 1 will the act of raising my right hand and touch-
ing my left. However, once 1 reflect on such an action 1 realize that in the
touching of my left hand, my right hand is also being touched by the left, a
form of touching that is unwilled but as the consequence of my initial act of
touch 1 am also being touched. The body is, therefore, 'both thing and vehicle
of my relation to things,.33 Merleau-Ponty attempts to build an analogy in
this reflection on bodily experience to our further experience of being amongst
objects, or in relation to objects in the world, in that there is something
about our relationality to the world that corresponds to this core structure
of a 'touched-touching', of an activity which is also as activity intrinsically
a passivity:

The relation with the world is included in the relation of the body with itself.
The relation of my two hands = the exchange between them; the touched
hand is given to the touching hand as touching; they are the mirror of each
other - something analogous in the relation with the things: they touch me
just as 1 touch them. Not surprising: They are that on which the synergy of
my body opens; they are made of the same stuff as the corporeal schema;
1 haunt them at a distance, they haunt me at a distance. 34

What this analysis of the body as a certain relationality gives is a concrete

physical instantiation of a model for aura tic experience, which is taken out of
the purely visual sphere. Understanding the aura tic in terms of an attitude
towards objectivity of a 'distanced nearness' can here have a grounding in
embodiment. The particular form ofhuman embodiment, encapsulated in the
ability to be close to objects in the world, yet distanced, is encapsulated in
the form of a relation of a 'touched-touching'. Such a bodily relation will change
over time through transformations in bodily experience and our relation with
objects, but it provides a grounding for a comportment towards objectivity
which could exist with objects without dominating or dissolving into the
object. The concept of a 'distanced nearness' as a visual concept is far more
difficult to account for; as Merleau-Ponty acknowledges, the 'eye cannot see the
eye, as the hand touches the other hand' .35 The shifting of a concept of the aura-
tic from the realm of iconic or aesthetic images to the realm of objectivity per
se in terms of a visual experience of something as a 'unique phenomenon of a
82 Adorno's Concept ofLijè
distance, however close it may be' does not give us a coherent account of the
immersion in objectivity, in which as nature a subject separates itself from
nature. The contemplative look that Adorno writes about in terms of a dis-
tanced nearness still has an element of too much of the objectifying gaze, there-
fore a distance without nearness. 36 Adorno's account ofthis 'distanced nearness'
is as follows in Minima Moralia:

But in the long, contemplative look that fully dis closes people and things, the
urge towards the object is always deHected, reHected. Contemplation without
violence, the source of aU the joy of truth, presupposes that he who contem-
plates does not absorb the object into himself: a distanced nearness. 37

An analysis of this relation in terms of the bodily relation of a 'touched-

touching' would enable a more concrete description and understanding of what
such an immersion in objectivity could mean as 'distanced nearness'. Such a
description bases itself upon an embodied place of thought within the world,
due to certain capacities of the body. This capacity resides in an affectivity of
the body, its ability to both be alongside and separate from objectivity, ev en
conceived in terms ofits own body.
This is not to say that such an embodied relating should be hypostasized in
itself, as beyond the historical. In accordance with the idea ofnatural history,
such an ontological turn could be historicized in itself. In fact, the grounding for
such a historicization lies in the account of a destruction of experience which is
largely configured in bodily terms, as the replacement of a bodily relation to the
world in terms of the growth offorms ofliving which privilege the body as a pure
stimulus-response mechanism. The instantaneity of response caused by the
shock effect ofmodern forms oflife (such as the assembly line, the experience of
the modern city) moulds and adapts the body in new ways, as a centre or field
of tension, exposed to these currents of change. This is Benjamin's formulation
in the essay on 'Experience and Poverty', of the 'tiny, fragile human body',
which lies at the mercy of a 'field of destructive torrents and explosions'. 38
Such a thinking of the body in terms of it as the locus for the destruction of a
certain form of experience, would also inevitably have to account for the new
possibilities revealed to the body by technological developments and attempt
to relate these to the system of exchange. It is not that this argument is not ela-
borated in Adorno's work - for example, in his analyses of the changes in forms
oflistening to music produced by the culture industry - it is just that the think-
ing through of the concept of the body as implicated in thought is not con-
ceived primarily in any other way th an the hydraulic model of drive and repres-
sion in Freudian theory.
There is a good reason for this, in that any statement of what it means for
a body to be our locus within the world, can tend towards an absolutization
of such an experience. Merleau-Ponty tends towards this with his ontological
conceptualization of the 'touched-touching' relation as the concept of 'flesh".
As he argues:
Suffering Lijè 83
Ifit is true that as soon as philosophy declares itselfto be reflection or coinci-
dence, it prejudges what it will find, then once again it must recommence
everything, reject the instruments reflection and intuition had provided
themselves, and instaIl itself in a locus where they have not yet been dis tin-
guished, in experiences that have not yet been 'worked over', that offer us
aIl at once pell-mell both 'subject' and 'object'. 39

Adorno's critique of damaged life demonstrates that there is no such location

that can be preserved pristine and immediate. To mistake the bodily relating as
ontological ultimate is the mistake of identifying the 'remnants' of life for the
absolute itself. 40 Simon Jarvis has noted that Adorno's speculation calls for a
new 'phenomenology of affect' which may owe more to 'Proust rather than
Husserl' .41 Any such phenomenology though will have to deal with the very
affects as historically transformed that are to be described. The problem for a
new phenomenology of affect even in a Proustian form as a phenomenology of
the involuntary recall of affects now decomposed is that such an involuntary
recall either presumes the experience to be recalled in involuntary memory
occurred at a certain temporal moment, and therefore is accessible, or argues
that the initial experience itselfwas unconscious. Adorno's dispute with Benja-
min about the characteristics of the mémoire involuntaire coalesces around this
point. Benjamin argues that the initial moment was unconscious, and Adorno
disagrees. HoweveL if the initial taste or experience is not unconscious, the
recovery of such an experience has to exist within the lifetime of somebody
who originally had such an experience. Surveying the history of affects from
the stance of a completed destruction of experience would mean that there
were no experiences there to be recalled. The generation that had gone to
'school in the streetcar', and now finds itself plunged into rapid change, accord-
ing to Benjamin's formulation, is now dead. We are aIl living through a rapid
process of change that would not allow for the recaIl of such affects, even in invo-
luntary memory. Ifthere is to be a Proustian moment in the phenomenology of
affect, it will be oriented towards the future in terms of an unfulfilled experience
that opens up possibilities, in terms of the Proustian place-name, an experience
which we will discuss in a later chapter. Perhaps the either-or between Proust
and Husserl is too stark, and we need an element of Proust, and an element of
the phenomenology of being-in-the-world in terms of embodiment that l have
attempted to elucidate via certain aspects of Merleau-Ponty's thought. Never-
theless, Jarvis is correct in his argument that we cannot refuse an attempt to
construct any means of theorizing these 'traces' of the na tural, particularly as
'current circumstances turn out to go on and on being current'. 4:?
In this chapter l have attempted to theorize these traces in tenus of a funda-
mental affective tonality ofbeing-in-the-world that is not given conceptually or
immediately, but does serve as a pre-reflective basis for experience, a basis that
is not present or certain but is an ambiguity based upon our affectivity. One
of the ways of thinking about this is through the experience of the suffering
body. There are two difficulties with this approach. First, the reliance on a
84 Adorno's Concept ofLife
pre-reflective notion of affective life tends towards a concept of invariance
which is problematic in that it is thought as separate from any historical mode
of production in which this affective life is installed. Furthermore, the emphasis
on a pre-reflective, non-conceptual experience can easily revert to a form ofphi-
losophical irrationalism, or the construction oftwo realms ofknowledge which
are not connected with each other. This pre-reflective basis then becomes an
absolutely other point beyond reason which cannot be reflectively grasped but
only converged with in an experience of dissolution which can never guarantee
its outcome or preserve the freedom of a reflective subject. The absolute imma-
nence of Henry's concept of suffering or the absolute exteriority of the ethical
grounding of Levinas' account of suffering consume any possible subject posi-
tion within a limit-experience.
The second problem is related to this in that the se limit-experiences, in which
there is no divide between experiencer and experienced, open us up to a funda-
mental basis for the world, which is purely elemental or horizonal. What is
given as the 'il y a' of existence, or in Merleau-Ponty's terms the 'flesh', is pre-
cisely an elemental indifference between subject and object which never gives us
a relation to the particularity of objects as such, but only installs us within an
elemental soup of affective modes and tonalities. There is here a question as to
whether this pre-reflective affectivity still means that we exist within an ideal-
ism, a world which does not provide us with a relation to objectivity as such.
However, there is another way oftrying to think about theorizing these traces
of materiality that can return and figure the possibility of a different way of
living, which does not rely on a pre-reflective non-conceptual material moment
within thought, but attempts to think the material as immanent within concep-
tuality itself. The most impressive, thoroughgoing attempt at such a coherent
construction revolves, too, around a concept of suffering life but approaches it
from a different perspective th an we have outlined heretofore. This isJ. M. Bern-
stein's attempt to articulate a conceptually mediated yet materially affected
epistemology through a deep engagement with Adorno's work.
Chapter 6

Natural Life

Re-enchanting Nature

In Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, Bernstein attempts to give content to Ador-

no's thinking of nature as the non-identical, through a reading of McDowell's
writings on epistemology in Mind and World. 1 Bernstein outlines three distinct
but interrelated meanings of 'life' that Adorno uses in Minima Moralia. First,
there is the Aristotelian notion of the 'good life', an ethical mode of living,
which Adorno refers to as previously being a central concern of philosophy.
Second, there is what Bernstein refers to as the 'evaluative sense of organic
life, the sense of "life" that gives on to vitalism'. Third, there is the Hegelian
notion of Sittlichkeit, the life of society, with its practices and customs, which is
depicted throughout MinimaM oralia. 2 It is the second concept of 'life' that,
intuitively, appears to be the most problematic for a reading of Adorno, in that
the notion of an 'evaluative sense of organic life' would seem to be a founda-
tional ontology which would negate Adorno's Hegelian insistence that every-
thing is mediated.
Bernstein argues that Adorno gives an account of an 'anthropomorphic
nature' that has been replaced by enlightenment practices of instrumental
reason. However, although this concept of 'anthropomorphic nature' is used
throughout the book, its definition is difficult to pin down. Bernstein argues
that enlightenment defines myth as anthropomorphism, 'the projection of the
human onto nature'. 3 He makes the daim that the project of demythologization
becomes the elimination of anthropomorphic nature, the elimination of: ' ...
anything that might look like it is a part of nature solely because we have collec-
tively placed it there,.4 There already appears to be a confusion here. In a stan-
dard definition, anthropomorphism defines astate ofmind, which results in the
attribution of hum an characteristics to non-human entities. Presumably this is
why Bernstein refers to animism as a form of 'gross anthropomorphism', as it
attributes hum an life, or a human soul, to aIl living things, although animism
could be equally defined as the attribution of divine entities, i.e. gods to non-
human entities rather than the human projecting on to the non-human.
Anthropomorphism does not refer to the project of objectification in the world,
which is different from projection, although Bernstein here appears to conflate
the two. This discussion is important because Bernstein makes the following
strong daim that: 'Adorno's philosophical project is to resurrect a legitimate
86 Adorno's Concept ofLift
anthropomorphism, an anthropomorphic nature that is somewhere between
the extremes of myth ... and enlightenment.'5 What Bernstein means by
anthropomorphic nature is an understanding of the hum an as a part ofnature,
as involved with nature and dependent upon the material world, and this
is something that is lost through the domination of nature presupposed by
concept-intuition dualism. Why this is termed anthropomorphic is odd, given
that anthropomorphism seems to depend upon a separation of the human from
the non-hum an in order to project hum an attributes on to the non-human.
l t is precisely a first stage in the transformation from mythical thinking ta
enlightenment thought in its attempt to mould and adapt nature. Bernstein's
notion seems to be more nature-morphic, in terms of a conception ofhumanity
that moulds itself and adapts itself to nature, rather than vice versa. In his
earlier essay, 'Re-Enchanting Nature', Bernstein uses the term 'circumambi-
ent' rather than 'anthropomorphic' nature. This seems a better term for the
'nature intrinsic in and the counterpart of our embodiment'. 6 Bernstein's use
of this concept of nature borrows heavily from McDowell's work. In Mind and
World, McDowell attempts a solution to the Kantian problem ofhow thinking
can be both free (i.e. spontaneous), yet nevertheless connected to a material
world which structures and determines thought. Thoughts must have sorne con-
tent, but that content cannot constrict thoughts to the extent that spontaneity
and freedom does not apply in thinking. McDowell attempts to think a form of
receptivity in experience that would allow the taking up of matter in a sponta-
neous way into the 'space ofreasons', but he wants to do this without any con-
cept of the given, as something that is unproblematically available for the senses
to work upon. The problem is the connection between thoughts and intuitions,
and how a purely passive experience can be linked to a spontaneous and active
reason. This Kantian problem leads to an oscillation between two unacceptable
alternatives for McDowell: ' ... we are prone to faU into an intolerable oscilla-
tion: in one phase we are drawn to a coherentism that cannot make sense of the
bearing ofthought on objective reality, and in the other phase we recoil into an
appeal to the Given, which turns out to be useless'.' McDowell's solution ta the
oscillation is a distinctive concept of experience, and furthermore a distinctively
human concept of experience. For l\1cDowell, there is no separation between
the operations of the understanding and the passive receptivity of sense experi-
ence: hum an experience is conceptual aIl the way down. What McDowelI
means by conceptuality in this sense is that there can be no separable thinking
of spontaneity and receptivity in any form of experience. The rational under-
standing does not stand apart from a flow of passive intuitions, which are then
organized by the mind, but the very form of receptivity involves conceptual
understanding. Conceptual understanding is implicated in the very mode of
sense perception, of the receiving of sense impression, and it is implicated in
the sense that this mode of perception is spontaneous and free. Nature cannot
therefore be conceived as a realm of law: 'Experiences are impressions made
by the world on our senses, products ofreceptivity: but these impressions them-
selves already have conceptual content.,8
N atural Life 87
What does it me an for sense impressions to have conceptual content? This is
the point that is left rather unclear by McDowell, but he is clear that the actua-
lization of our nature is at stake, and it is the actualization of a nature that is
distinctively free, in the sense that it is both spontaneous and passive. This
involves a distinctive understanding of nature as a realm ofspontaneity, rather
than the traditional scientific representation of nature as a realm of law. The
corollary of this understanding of nature necessarily involves a certain re-
enchantment of nature, a re-enchantment that McDowell embraces in terrns
ofa positive concept of 'second nature'. Second nature is the awareness ofhow
we develop as rational beings through our natural, embodied actualizations of a
spontaneous, yet receptive nature. Second nature is the awareness of our devel-
opment as being grounded in a natural development, but it is a development
distinct from non-human animaIs as it is spontaneous aIl the way down. Spon-
taneity is only a problem if conceptuality is configured as a response within the
structure of a realm oflaw, but concept formation should be thought as a way
of capturing or configuring our 'ways ofliving'. 9 However, our ways ofliving
will be significantly different from other forms of living because what distin-
guishes humans from non-hum an animaIs is this level of rational receptivity
in aIl forms ofliving. McDowell's naturalism is also a thoroughgoing and old-
fashioned humanism, in the sense that it sharply differentiates human from
non-hum an animaIs.
The originality of Bernstein's reading of Adorno lies in his usage of
McDowell's thought, and it is his achievement that he sees the congruence
of elements ofAdorno's thinking of nature and McDowell's critique of Kantian
epistemology. These congruences lie in an attempt to think the connection
between thought and objectivity in a way that privileges the object. without a
concept of the given as an unmediated direct access to objectivity. However.
there are several problems with McDowell's work, and these problems will
also affect any reading of Adorno through McDowell, even given Bernstein!s
critique of Mind and World.
Bernstein's critique of McDowell is twofold. First, he argues that the con-
cept of second nature, or the recovery of a second nature in Mind and TVorld,
ignores the social and historical processes embedded in our inability to realize
that the exercise of our reason is dependent upon our embodiment in the
world. 1t is not just a category mistake that we have forgotten that thinking
relies upon an embodied relation to the world, but a result of processes of
thinking (identity thinking) and world historical processes, primarily indus-
trial and post-industrial capitalism~ which have made it almost impossible
to recover a second nature in McDowell's sense. Bernstein is arguing that
McDowell needs to complement his concept of second nature with a Lukacsian
concept ofsecond nature, as his re-enchantment ofnature is too is Bern-
stein's second critique that leads to particular problems in his interpretation
of Adorno. Bernstein is uncomfortable at the clear demarcation between
human and non-human experience that McDoweIl draws, for good reasoIlS.
McDoweIrs argument separates aIl hum an experience from non-human
88 Adorno's Concept ofLijè
experience, primarily because he wants a grounding of human experience
which is both passive and spontaneous, and thus he wants a base level of
responsive experience which is fundamentally conceptual 'aIl the way down'.
McDowell feels that non-human animaIs are basically responsive and therefore
not spontaneous, that passive receptivity and spontaneity are separable in non-
hum an animaIs, but cannot be separated in hurnans. This distinction seerns
too sharp, and Bernstein correctly identifies it in his critique, as it does not allow
for any understanding of how our animal lives as hurnans are actualized in
our thinking. Bernstein recornmends that we replace this central idea with
a notion of our animal selves as grounding our core conceptual capacities:
' ... passive synthesis should be, in the first instance, associated with accom-
plishments of animal ernbodiment rather than the passive exercise of concep-
. . , 10
tua1capaClt1es .
In one sense, this is a straightforward argument: that we share a range of
activities, affects and drives with non-human animaIs, and that these will
impinge upon the ways that we respond to the world. These will both be positive
and negative attributes, in traditional normative terms, so we will share nurtur-
ing instincts and violent, aggressive instincts. The problem for Bernstein is that
he wants to use these shared attributes in a strong grounding sense as the basis
both for our spontaneous thinking and normatively as a basis for ethical think-
ing. McDoweIl could do this as he argued that there was no separation between
receptivity and spontaneity in any form of human experience. Bernstein cor-
rectly recognizes that this is not argued for and seerns unlikely given our
common evolutionary heritage with other species, but he wants to retain the
strong grounding principle of this animal embodiment. He do es this in his
book on Adorno through the concept of material inference. Il He argues that
Adorno's references to the non-identical as making a daim through hum an
suffering can be thought as a strong form of naturalistic grounding of both an
ethics and a new form of conceptual thinking. It is in this sense that a new, awa-
kened or enchanted epistemology will configure a more ethical relation to the
world. This can occur through the processes of material inference, in the sense
that our natural embodied responses to our vulnerability as hum an bodies can
enshrine a different way ofliving. Bernstein uses the example that the response
to someone bleeding badly is to apply a tourniquet, but it is undear what the
grounding is for such a strong inferential response. In fact, Bernstein retains
sorne of the problems of McDoweIl's arguments in the very project of a ground-
ing of reason in nature; this problem is that there is no argument as to why
such a grounding should be inferential. There are two problems here. First,
although McDowell and Bernstein reject a certain argument about the given,
they still construct arguments that are foundationalist, and second, their
foundationalism requires a level ofinferential connections that is never argued
for. In McDoweIl's case it is the argument that spontaneity exists aIl the way
down in human experience, and in Bernstein's case it is the argument that cer-
tain states of affairs immediately caU upon certain responses, due to our animal
embodiment, but the whole notion of inference here needs to be examined. 12
N atural Life 89
Why a certain animal reaction should be enshrined as strongly inferential
rather than another is never eXplained by Bernstein, but one could equally
outline cases where the injurability of life calls forth responses of violence or
indifference, and we have seen precisely this oscillation in Levinas' account of
suffering. There is no straightforward inferential path that leads from the capa-
city to suffer to a response which respects that, rather than tries to erase it. Both
responses are parts of our animal embodiment in the world, and therefore that
embodiment cannot provide a straightforward inferential means of grounding
either our thinking or our morality.
Bernstein states that 'particularity and naturalism' are primary orientations
for Adorno, and tUfIlS Adorno into a theorist of human nature, and an et hic al
theorist of hum an nature at that, with the twist that he is a theorist ofhuman
nature when there is no nature, a theorist of the residue of human nature.
As he argues: ' ... anthropomorphic nature has at least been made aIl but invi-
sible, and, at worst eliminated, become a residue, th en aIl Adorno can do is
point to the original setting of reason and subjectivity, itself a highly specula-
tive gesture ... ,13 Bernstein is accurate in one sense here, in the importance
of a speculative concept of life within Adorno's work, but he is wrong in
inflecting this speculation in a negative sense as a 'gesture'. Nor can this specu-
lation be conceived as a re-enchantment of nature, as nature itself is full of
conflicting impulses and urges. Nature itself as foundational ground for a
humanism in terms of material inference ignores those aspects of the 'natural'
which may not caU forth inferential ethical responses, but instead calI for pure
responses of self-preservation. This would be the Nietzschean critique of su ch a
naturalism; that the concept oflife as nature is indebted to a humanism which
subordinates the natural and reads it in purely hum an terms. Adorno's response
would be that the natural needs to be read 'where it rests most deeply as nat-
ural', as the historical. 14 Although Bernstein does attempt this, with his critique
of McDoweIl's overly optimistic concept of 'second nature', his reading of
Adorno's naturalism as a foundational ground ultimately leaves us with an
ontology which is not historicized.
Bernstein does capture Adorno's concern with a concept of life in Minima
Moralia, what he refers to as modernity and the disenchantment ofreason lead-
ing to a point where it is 'sapping the living from life', but 1 don't think that the
explanatory framework that is given in relation to the eradication ofan anthro-
pomorphic nature makes any clearer an Adornian understanding oflife. 15 The
other main problem in this reading of Adorno through McDowell is the concept
of philosophy involved in McDowell's epistemology. This reading of Adorno
remains at the level of epistemology, ev en ifit is a deepened epistemology; the
implication being the Kantian one that there are certain things knowable
through the categories ofreason and certain things that are unknowable. Even
though McDowell consciously sees his project as Hegelian it remains within the
bounds of a certain Kantianism in its acceptance of the ca tegories of thinking as
they are. The process of the re-enchantment of nature is a clearing of the dense
forest ofphilosophical concepts to open up the relation ofmind and nature in a
90 Adorno's Concept of Life
certain form of embodied practice. This foundationalism, though, needs to be
supplemented with the Hegelian project of a speculative use of reason, as
Robert Stern argues:

... while McDowell wants to vindicate cornmon sense ... Hegel wants rnuch
more to vindicate a kind of conception ofphilosophy that Kant had thought
was impossible ... Hegel does not see Kantianism as incompatible because it
fails to uphold comrnonsense realism, but rather because it fails to uphold
philosophy in general and metaphysics in particular. 16

Stern's critique is that McDowell's thinking remains at the level of Kantian

reason, whereas the core of Hegel's attempt to move beyond Kant lies in an
attempt to think philosophy in a speculative sense, rather than as a vindication
of reason as it currently stands. This leads McDowell to a certain passive con-
ception of the nature of philosophy, and this leaks into Bernstein's reading of
Adorno. Bernstein understands Adorno's dialectics as a dialectics that refers to
material inference rather than a dialectics that opens up the space of thinking
otherwise through conceptuality. The negative dialectic, for Bernstein, is the
form of conceptual thinking which reveals the material moment of the concept
that has been repressed by identity thinking. 17 Whilst this is certainly one way
of reading Adorno's emphasis on the preponderance ofthe object, and on a dia-
lectical experience which opens up thinking towards its material determinants,
to describe it in terms of a material inference already determines the status of
what is outside current conceptual categories in a way that is illegitimate given
Adorno's understanding of a reified life in which there is no space for a posited
reconciliation between mind and world. Adorno's thinking of nature is specula-
tive, in the sense that it has to be because there can be no true thinking ofnature
given the structures ofidentity thinking. The process ofnegative dialectics does
consist in the 'undoing of concept-intuition dualism', but it does not extend to
'an elaboration of the notion of material inference', as Bernstein wants it to do. 18
This response to the difficulties in Adorno's thinking of nature is problematic,
because despite the disavowing of a notion of nature as foundational, it never-
theless relies on a certain primary naturalism, a certain notion of nature as the
given, and, therefore poses three difficulties for any philosophy, like Adorno's,
that is self-consciously post-Kantian in the sense of agreeing with sorne elements
ofa Hegelian critique of Kant. First, there is the Hegelian critique of the given
as unmediated; Adorno, like Hegel, will argue that there is nothing that is not
mediated, and the reading of Adorno through a concept ofmaterial inference,
and the setting of McDowell's thought, relies upon a certain notion of the
given, even ifit sets itselfup as a philosophy that solves this problem. Second,
the thinking of a foundational nature is fundamentally ahistorical, as though
there are certain elements of fundamental nature that do not change over
time and can be recovered. This thinking lies at the heart of any project of a
re-enchantment of nature; the thought that there is something that lies within
either our conceptual categories or our animal lives that can be re-awakened
N atural Lijè 91

and thus illuminate a relationship to nature that has been disenchanted. This
has to be something fundamentally different to the operations of enlightened
thought, as the rational re-enchantment of nature is a contradiction in terms.
However, the argument that there are capacities or modes ofliving unaffected
by history, unchanged by our interactions with the world, that can be recovered
and, thus, re-enchant nature is highly unlikely. Bernstein recognizes this in his
critique of Adorno's concept ofmimesis, as precisely a capacity that survives the
ravages ofidentity thinking unscathed and ready for recuperation in the experi-
ence of the work ofart: 'It is here assumed that mimesis represents an indepen-
dent, archaic form of cognition that survives only in art. Where this thesis goes
wrong is in giving to mimesis a substantiality and independence it does not pos-
sess. d9 Certain aspects of the mimetic faculty are thought to have survived
unscathed and can be recuperated in aesthetic experience. This reifies mimesis
as a faculty unaffected by social and historical determinants, just as the argu-
ment for material inference reifies a certain response to living that can make a
direct demand for an inferential response. Third, the reliance on epistemology
as the mode of a philosophical rescue of an experience of nature ignores Ador-
no's attempt at a speculative philosophy, a philosophy that attempts to change
the categories ofthinking rather than naturalize them.
Nevertheless 1 think Bernstein is right to emphasize this theme ofnaturallife
within Adorno's thinking, and there is a question of the relation of a speculative
philosophy to materiality, particularly as Adorno's metaphysics is a metaphy-
sics of experience rather than of an intellectual intuition. Where 1 diverge from
Bernstein's reading is in the invocation of a concept of inference as grounding
the appearance and reappearance of a materiality within thought. The mate-
rial moment is far more involuntary, uncertain and antithetical to dassificatory
conceptuality than a concept of inferential material daims allows. 1 think, in
this sense, that the arguments of a pre-reffective affective tonality to life have
more justice than an argument for material inference.

Intellectual Experience

The other central critique of McDowell's reading of Kant is that the proble-
matic he sets up within Kant is solved by Kant himself, or there is an attempt
at a solution, but in the third rather than the first critique. 20 ln Mind and World,
McDowell's reading of Kant remains at the level of the Critique of Pure Reason,
and doesn't take into account Kant's arguments in the Critique if Judgement.
:\dorno uses many of the concepts of reffective judging that are outlined in
Kant's Critique of Judgement in his definition of an intellectual experience,
which is essentially an experience of thought, of the ability of thinking to exist
through the determinate negation of what is. The only possibility for such a
determinate negation, given the erosion ofautonomy through capitalist moder-
nit y, exists within the experience of a tension between immersion and withdra-
wal in objectivity. Adorno uses the following example:
92 Adorno' s Concept ofLijè
Nothing less is asked of the thinker today than that he should be at every
moment both within things and outside them. Münchausen pulling himself
out of the bog by his pig-tail becomes the pattern ofknowledge which wishes
to be more than either verification or speculation. 21

The retention of an idea of truth rests with the possibility of forms of thought,
which do not inflict violence to objectivity, which linger with particularity,
without resolving into an identifying result. The experience ofthinking is there-
fore something that is always fallible, always subject to error and failure, as it is
always a thinking against the limits ofwhat can be thought.
In 'The Essayas Form', Adorno articula tes a notion of intellectual experi-
ence which is encapsulated at its best in the essay form, an experience in which
concepts do not form a continuum, but are 'interwoven' around the object
under scrutiny. This form of thought is a form of experience due to a certain
passivity in its nature: 'The thinker does not actually think but rather makes
himselfinto an arena for intellectuaJ experience, without unraveling it. ,22 Intel-
lectual experience can only function through conceptuality, but can escape the
identifying function of conceptuality through its capacity to linger with objects
and form patterns and constellations of concepts around the objects. Tt is an
experience that is necessarily fallible, and an exaggeration in the sense that it
always overshoots the object. However, it is not clear what the relation is
between this intellectual experience and the subjective experience of moder-
nity. This intellectual experience is a withdrawal, but any withdrawal lS
always compromised by what it withdraws from. Adorno writes as follows:

If truth has a temporal core, then the full historical content becomes an
integral moment in it ... The relationship to experience - and the essay
invests experience with as much substance as tradition al theory do es mere
categories - is the relationship to aIl of history. Merely individu al experi-
ence, which consciousness takes as its point of departure, since it is what is
closest to it, is itself mediated by the overarching experience of historical
humankind. 23

Within the essay form, the individual experience of the object under scrutiny
is mediated further by the historical experience ofthat object, and its reception,
and it is only in the relationship between this individual experience and the his-
torical experience that an idea of truth can be attained. Tt is only through
experience, and not, as a tradition al Kantian approach would stipulate,
through the categories of the understanding, that an idea of truth can be
achieved. However, this account of experience has several Kantian overtones
ifwe think ofit in relation to the Critique ofJudgement. In fact, the third critique
can be thought of as the attempt to interrogate the problem of a rule-governed
spontaneity, the very problem that preoccupies McDowell. Kant's characteri-
zation of the judgement of taste as a univers al judgement free from the deter-
mining synthesis of a concept is a model for the experience that Adorno
describes. As Kant writes: 'As the subjective univers al communicability of the
N atural Life 93
mode ofrepresentation in ajudgement oftaste is to subsist apart from the pre-
supposition of any definite concept, it can be nothing else than the free play of
imagination and understanding.,24 This mode ofexperience is intrinsically pas-
sive and requires a level of free-floating attention to be given to the object in
view, as Kant writes, in language very similar to Adorno's:
We dwell on the contemplation of the beautiful because this contempla-
tion strengthens and reproduces itself. The case is analogous (but analogous
only) to the way we linger on a charm in the representation of an object which
keeps arresting the attention, the mind all the while remaining passive. 25
David Bell has outlined several elements to the concept of reflective judge-
ment that Kant outlines in the third critique. Aesthetic judging is criterialess:
it has no presuppositions or model to start from. It is spontaneous, in the sense
ofnot being rule-governed. Thejudgement is expressive of the object that is pre-
sented to the subject, and it is expressive in the sense ofbeing a sensible mode of
judging rather than a faculty of rational understanding. Thus aesthetic judge-
ments are non-cognitive, in the sense ofnot being subsumed under a governing
and synthesizing concept. Despite being expressive in the sense ofbeing accom-
panied with a feeling, aesthetic judgements are not invested in the object in the
sense of desire or affection, they are essentially disinterested, and because of this
they are 'presumptively universal', in the sense that they hold for any apprehen-
sion of the object in the same circumstances, and can therefore be universally
valid. Aesthetic judgements are purely formaI, in the sense that they are solely
responses to form rather than matter. Nevertheless, they are synthetic, and do
perform a synthesis, but a synthesis without a governing concept. Finally, they
are reflective rather than determinative judgements. 26 Adorno's concept of
intellectual experience shares many of the facets of this account of aesthetic jud-
gement. His account ofintellectual experience relies on the possibility of a con-
stellation of concepts expressing something of the truth of the object through a
passive and non-subsumptive experience of the object of interpretation. The
interpretation is criterialess in that it does not presuppose any meaning to be
uncovered or hold any sure key for unlocking the object of study. The attempt
to put something into play, to think not through a continuum of logical pro-
gressions, but through the thinker 'making himself into an arena for intel-
lectual experience', demands a level of spontaneity and imagination. Intellec-
tuai experience is spontaneous in that it demands a passive and free response
from the subject. Adorno articulates the relationship of experience to cognition
as a relation within cognition rather th an counterposed to cognition: 'Knowl-
edge of the object is brought doser by the act of the subject rending the veil it
weaves about the object. 1t can do this only when, passive, without anxiety,
it entrusts itself to its own experience ... Subject is the agent, not the constitu-
ent, of object .. .,2ï Experience that gives priority to the object, 'entrusts to
itself' in the sense that it allows the apprehension of the object to unfold through
a lingering with the particularity of the object. Subjective experience is an
attempt to encapsulate the forms of human cognition and understanding that
94 Adorno's Concept ofLife
are not encapsulated in the idea of the constituting transcendental subject. The
subject of experience is therefore always changing in the moment ofexperience,
in the sense that it is the subject that is constituted by the experience rather than
the object.
The question ofhow Adorno's concept ofintellectual experience departs from
Kant's concept of aesthetic judgement opens up questions which we have seen
that Bernstein attempts to resolve through a certain naturalistic reading of
Adorno. 1 have outlined where 1 think that this elaboration of Adorno's concept
of experience causes more problems than it solves. Nevertheless, the problems
remain. First, what is the basis for this blind synthesis that occurs in a synthesis
without a subsuming rule-governed concept, ifit cannot be articulated through
a notion of a material inference? Second, and relatedly, how do es the material
moment come to matter in thought, in the sense of a determinative content that
is, nevertheless, not completely subsumed? Finally, there is the question ofhow
this subjective, intellectual experience, can link to a wider conception ofhistor-
ical experience? How do we construct a concept of a wider historical experience
from this intellectual experience, particularly given Adorno's critique of any
totalizing knowledge?

Mimesis and Life

The question of the basis for a non-conceptual synthesis can be approached via
the question ofwhat it means to experience in a fulfilled manner: what does it
mean to have an experience, in the strong sense of the word? In Minima Moralia,
Adorno writes of the 'fulfilled relation of experience to its subject-matter' .28
This fulfilled relation is not something that Adorno will posit, due to the aware-
ness that a completed experience, given the conditions oflife and cognition, as
'damaged life' in late capitalism, is usually a false reconciliation. Adorno's
thought wants to delineate the outlines of fulfilment through the concept of
damage. However, this tension between a concept of damaged life and a resis-
tance to outlining a fulfilled life causes problems for Adorno's negative di alec-
tics, in that such a negatively dialectical procedure always caUs forth what
Adorno terms elsewhere an 'ontological need,.29 This ontological need,
though, is betrayed ifit results in an ontology, an account of the life ofhumans
which is an ahistorical and foundational ground. Adorno's procedure in terms
of responding to the ontological need is twofold. First, looking to the past in
an attempt to recover elements of a relation between the subject and object
which can then be re-awakened in certain forms of experience (primarily aes-
thetic experience), and second, looking to the future through a utopian concept
of experience, which arises aporetically from the possibilities opened up by a
negatively dialectical philosophical experience. The question of the basis for
such a non-subsumptive synthesis lies in Adorno's recuperation ofmimesis as a
faculty ofreason, a faculty which has been subordinated historically to the cog-
nitive subsumption of object by concept indicative of predicative thought. The
"Vatural LiJe 95
concept of mimesis has a clear reference to a certain concept of life, and also a
strong element of a backward-Iooking rescue about its recuperation as a con-
cept. ln terms of what it means to have an experience that is mimetic, l want
to explore this relation between mimesis and life in terms ofexperience.
The model for an authentic experience in Adorno's philosophy is aesthetic
experience. The mimetic faculty has migrated into a form ofaesthetic comport-
ment towards the object, which can model a relation between subject and object
that offers a positive concept offulfilled experience. Such a positive concept of
fulfilled experience can be offered through the theory of aesthetics, due to the
semblance character of the aesthetic object. As aesthetics deals with artifacts,
the reconciled relation ofsubject and object as outlined through aesthetic com-
portment does not betray the diremption at large in reality, because the parti-
cular relation ofsubject and object within aesthetics is not reliant on conceptual
subsumption. Mimesis originally arose as a means of coping with the fear of a
dominating external nature. When humankind was un able to dominate or con-
trol natural events, mimetic activities attempted to model the object or imitate
the object as a means of controlling fear. In this sense, mimesis is completely an
entrapped and spellbound mode of human comportment, but the particular
importance of such a relation between subject and object is that it is a relation
whereby the subject becomes immersed in objectivity, a relation where the sub-
ject is immersed to the extent ofbeing dominated. With the increasing ability of
human technology to tame and construct nature in accordance with the needs
of hum an survival and self-preservation, this mime tic comportment migrated
into other less interest-driven modes ofhuman action, primarily the experience
and production of artworks: 'Art is a refuge for mimetic comportment. In art
the subject exposes itself at various levels of autonomy, to its other, separated
from it, and yet not altogether separated.,30 As l have outlined above, the pro-
blem with this rescue of mimesis as a faculty is that it somehow survives
unscathed the vicissitudes ofhistory. The problem for Adorno here is a certain
concept of experiential fullness, which has a relation to life. Adorno doesn't
articulate this fully, but there is a philosopher, John Dewey, who specifically
oudines the connection between aesthetic experience and life in ways that may
assist in trying to understand the concept of a fulfilled experience.
Adorno had read Dewey's work, and refers approvingly to it in several
texts. 31 Dewey's book, Art and Experience, mirrors many of the concerns of
Adorno in its explicit aim to articulate a realm of aesthetic experience as a
model of fulfilled experience that is autonomous, but nevertheless has links
with a continuum of hum an experience. l t is the links that Dewey articulates
through a concept oflife that can put sorne flesh on the bones of Adorno's con-
cept of experience, but also raise questions for the recuperation of a concept of
experience. In referring to Dewey's work here, l don't want to use this work as a
means of substituting Dewey's account of the relation between experience
and life for an account of Adorno's concept of life, when Adorno only has a
concept of damaged life, but sim ply to try and articulate a certain meaning
of a fulfilled experience.
96 Adorno's Concept if Life
Dewey articula tes an intense experience as an achievement of 'vitality', an
achievement of the 'organism'. 32 Experience only arises through a complex
interplay between the human subject and the environment that is characterized
by resistance of an object, struggle and achievement. The experience has a cer-
tain c1osure, and a certain rhythm, modeIled upon this interaction between sub-
ject and life. Experience is therefore both an undergoing, a suffering, and an
achievement. Experience thus completes itself, but in its completion as a satis-
faction of an initial need, returns in a changed mode. The unit y and closure of
fulfiUed experience does not bring the organism to a stasis, but results in a chan-
ged subject and object, and a changed relation between subject and object:
'Every movement of experience in completing itself recurs to its beginning,
since it is a satisfaction of the initial need. But the recurrence is with a difference;
it is charged with aIl the differences the journey out and away from the begin-
ning has made.,33
Although Dewey doesn't refer to the distinction between Erlebnis and Erfah-
rung, this description is a good summary of experience as Erfahrung, in the sense
of the journey of experience which changes both the subject of experience and
the object of the experience in a fulfilled mode that yet opens experience out
again at the end of the experience; as Dewey writes, we 'are never wholly free
from the sense ofsomething that lies beyond,.34 This experience is not pure in
the sense that it is always compromised by needs, desires, and a manipulating
relationship towards the object. Nevertheless, a certain natural attitude is the
prerequisite to the pure experience that is aesthetic experience, a natural atti-
tude characterized by Dewey, in the terms of 'rhythm' , as it is only through a
rhythmic relation between the subject and her environment that the precondi-
tion for a certain comportment towards the aesthetic object can take place.
Aesthetic experience is therefore not a separate realm to everyday experience,
but is founded on certain modes ofliving, due to the relation between rhythm,
form and expression that occur in the natural attitude and are sublimated in
an aesthetic experience. Dewey articulates the experience of a work of art in
the following way:

When the structure of the object is such that its force interacts happily (but
not easily) with the energies that issue from the experience itself: when their
mutual affinities and antagonisms work together to bring about a substance
that develops cumulatively and surely (but not too steadily) toward a fulfiIl-
ing of impulsions and tensions, th en indeed there is a work of art ... 35

The concept of a relation between subject and environment that results

in a rhythmic experience of resistance, tension and completion verges on a
fundamental ontology, unless there is a historie al account of this experience.
Dewey gives a broad historical account of a certain tendency towards a
decay in experience caused by the replacement of an overload of information
in modernity, rather than the tense achievement of a unity of experience.
He argues that:
N atural Lift 97
... we yield to conditions ofliving that force sense to remain an excitation on
the surface ... Identification nods and passes on. Or it marks a dead spot in
experience that is merely filled in. The extent to which the process of living
in any day or ho ur is reduced to labelling situations, events and objects as
'so and so' in mere succession marks the cessation of a life that is conscious
experience. Continuities realized in an individual, discrete form are the
essence of the latter. 36

The tension in this account is between a traditional concept of experience and

an ontological concept of experience. The problem with a concept of mimesis
for Adorno, as a mimetic comportment that has migrated into aesthetics, is
that, as a foundation for a synthesis that is not subsumptive, it becomes purely
ontological itself. Ifit is historicized then it becomes more open as to how such a
relation returns as either a pathic and fearful imitation, or a tender and non-
subsumptive imitation. The account of mimesis as 'nonconceptual affinity of
the subjectively produced with its unposited other', may work as an account of
a certain form of aesthetic experience, but the gap between aesthetic and every-
day experience is more difficult to bridge, unless an ontological argument is pos-
ited in terms of a fundamental mode ofhuman relation in the world, a form of
'being-in-the-world' that has magically remained unaffected through history. 37
At times, Adorno do es not historicize this notion ofmimesis but articulates it as
a form ofrationality that has been forgotten but can be magically re-awakened
through aesthetic experience. In a sense, this is the backward-looking and
regressive account of a relation between experience and life. However, Adorno
does give a more speculative account ofmimesis in Aesthetic Theory, an account
of mimesis as a shudder (an Erschütterung (shattering) or, at other times,
Schauer) , which results in an awakening to the natural not as an ontological pre-
predicative life-world, but the natural as that which speculatively escapes the
immanence of the historical.


Adorno writes about the shudder in aesthetic experience as a form ofindividual

experience which desubjectifies, an experience of immersion and loss in the
object that is frightening in its destabilizing of the ego, but also an awakening
to other possibilities and relations between subject and object. This is a moment
of immediacy, but it would be wrong to characterize it as a lived experience
in terms of an Erlebnis. Althbugh the shudder as the dissolution of the ego in
the work of art is instantaneous, its instantaneity is dependent on a full, com-
prehending consciousness (experience as Erfahrung). There can be no experi-
ence of the shudder, unless there is a strong individu al who understands and
approaches the work of art in terms of its tradition, its unfolding, and its rela-
tion to its historical context. However, the experience of the shudder dislocates
the egocentric nature of subjective experience in the sense that there is no
98 Adorno's Concept ofLife
'particular satisfaction for the l' in this experience. 38 This is not an intuitive
grasp of the intentions of the artist, or a direct revelation of the content of the
artwork as being personally meaningful in terms of the recipient's life. These
two responses would remain at a level of Erlebnis. The relation between the
shudder and experience is a non-conceptual experience of a completely new
form of experience, an individual experience that is without a dominating ego:

Shudder, radically opposed to the convention al idea of experience (Erlebnis)

provides no particular satisfaction for the 1; it bears no similarity to desire.
Rather, it is a memento of the liquidation of the l, which, shaken, perceives
its own limitedness and finitude. This experience (Erfahrung) is contrary to
the weakening of the 1 that the culture industry manipulates. 39

Adorno attempts to articulate an openness of experience that is primarily

individual, but at the same time dislocates the individu al from a strong and
dominating ego as self-preservation. This is a desubjectifying moment, but not
analogous to the weakening of the subject by the manipulations of the cul-
ture industry. The passivity and withering of experience fostered by the culture
industry is a withering which reduces the ability of the subject to adopt any
kind of differentiating or critical stance towards the object. A critical moment,
and therefore a strong ego, is paramount for any form of experience, in the sense
that without a critical distance the subject becomes a passive sponge for stimuli.
However, the shudder intimates a form of individual experience that might
move beyond the ego, not in terms of an identity of subject and object, but in
terms of a relation between subject and object that is not dependent on domina-
tion and need, a truly free relation. This shudder is a trace of'life' in an empha-
tic sense, life in the sense of a reconciled relation between subject and object that
is non-subsumptive. The life that is expressed here is the possibility of a different
form ofsubjectivation in which the hum an does not lose her relation to her own
body and to the natural world, in the process of a subjective formation. How-
ever, it is also an achievement, in the sense of experience as Erfahrung, in that it is
only through the production and creation of a strong ego that the 'irruption of
objectivity into subjective consciousness' can be achieved. 40
The question of who is having the experience in this sense becomes radica-
lized in the form of a paradox. This is a 'subjective experience against the l' .41
As a subjective experience, it is dependent upon a certain tradition and commu-
ni ty to form i tself as experience, and this tradition and comm uni ty also represses
itself as experience, in that it has a repressive side. The speculative experience of
a life that can overcome such a dialectic is experienced in the aesthetic object,
through this emphatic yet individu al experience that registers itself as both a
protest against the loss of ego and a pleasure at a complete immersion in objec-
tivity. This immersion, though, is only momentary: 'For a few moments the
"1" becomes aware, in real terms, of the possibility ofletting self-preservation
fall away, though it does not actually succeed in realizing this possibility ... that
it itselfis not ultimate, but semblance.'42
N atural Lijè 99
Rather than foundation for experience, the shudder is a revealing outcome of
a process of experience. This is a moment ofimmediacy, achieved through an
attempt by the subject to model the object, but this immediacy is completely
speculative in the sense that it is a glimpse of a different mode of being rather
than a fulfilled achievement. It is also a speculative moment that is realized
somatically, through a bodily reaction, but one that is disconnected from the
usual motors and drives ofbodily action such as desire. l t is a model of an embo-
died yet disinterested response, what Adorno terms as the joining of 'eros and
knowledge' .43 Therefore, if we can talk about life in the subject it is only
in terms of this achieved experience of the 'shudder': ' ... life in the subject is
nothing but what shudders ... Consciousness without shudder is reified con-
sciousness. That shudder in which subjectivity stirs without yet being subjectiv-
ity is the act of being touched by the other. ,44 This fulfilled experience is not
a foundation or a prerequisite, but a speculative yet bodily experience. The
problem for Adorno is that it depends upon a certain formation of subjective
experience in traditional terms, as a continuity of consciousness over time, as a
subject which is able to order, assimilate and develop its experience, and its rela-
tion to a tradition in terms ofboth appropriation and critique. The speculative
experience that is the 'shudder' is dependent on the possibility of a subjec-
tive experience formed through a certain relation between the subject and the
environment, a relation described by Dewey. This relation is historically pro-
duced in terms of a traditional concept of experience, in terms of a subject
who, in a rhythmic yet harmonious relation with the world, is able over time
to unify and absorb a sedimented tradition, in order to move beyond that
tradition. The problem for Adorno is that in his account of the decay ofexperi-
ence, it is just such a concept of experience that is being lost, and. thus, if
the speculative experience of the shudder in the reception of the artwork, or the
experience of possibility in a process of negative dialectics, is dependent upon
such a concept oftraditional experience, the speculation will disappear along-
side its foundation in subjective experience. To consider this further, we need
to examine the relation between a concept oflife and metaphysical experience.
Chapter 7

The Possibility of Living Today

In his lectures on metaphysics, Adorno writes: ' ... the question whether it is still
possible to live is the form in which metaphysics impinges on us urgently
today'.l In this chapter 1 want to consider the possibility oflife today, in terms
of an experience oflife that lies at the limits of reified experience. This experi-
ence is tied to the experience offreedom, in that the constellation of concepts of
possibility, life and metaphysical experience result in a negative articulation
The negativity intrinsic to a concept of a life that do es not live results from an
ontology of the false state of the world. As Christoph Menke has argued, this
results in certain forms of saying 'no' to life. 2 These forms of negation are not
absolute in themselves, but attempts to open up a possibility of things being
otherwise through a negation of the current circumstances. Such a process
could easily find itself caught between a spiritualizing or nihilistic stance. The
spiritualizing stance would be an affirmation of a position beyond the status
quo, as an existing redemptive state opened up by the negativity of an ontology
of the false state of things. Nihilism would be to affirm the existence of a
damaged life in itself as the only form oflife possible. The concept ofpossibility
here holds itselfin a peculiar relation to actuality. The possibility oflife in Ador-
no's work will refer to the possibility of an experience of something that can be
actual, but at the same time beyond the bounds ofpossibility. To affirm its actu-
ality, without recognizing its intrinsically negative and unrealized character, is
the spiritualizing mode ofredemption. To affirm only the impossibility ofsuch
an experience is to accept the immanent context and that there can be no form
oflife that moves beyond such a context. This would be the nihilistic move. One
way to resolve this would be a withdrawal from life itself, an affirmative concept
of a 'life that does not live'. Adorno mentions this as a ploy in the following
terms, when trying to respond to the possibility ofliving today:

... one might weIl compare this situation to that of the philosophy oflate anti-
quit y, in which, in response to the same question (the possibility of life) ,
people fell back on expedients such as ataraxy, that is, the deadening of aIl
affects,just to be capable ofliving at aIl ... 1 would say that even this stand-
point, although it emphatically embraces the idea of the freedom of the indi-
vidual, nevertheless has a moment ofnarrow mindedness in the sense that it
renders absolute the entrapment of human beings by the totality, and thus
sees no other possibility than to submit. 3
The Possibility ofLiving Today 101

Adorno emphasizes an element in this embrace of a denial of life as a form of

freedom, but then withdraws it.

Readings of Possibility

Adorno's concept ofpossibility refers back to Aristotelian discussions of the con-

cept. The salient importance of Aristotle's conception ofpossibility for Adorno
is that it is tied to matter rather th an form.
To refer to Aristotelian theory here is somewhat disingenuous, as the concept
ofpossibility appears in different guises in Aristotle's work, and is interpreted in
different ways by commentators on Aristotle. 4 For Aristotle, actuality is prior to
possibility. In his Metaphysics Aristotle writes, 'We have discussed the various
senses of "prior" , and it is clear that actuality is prior to potentiality.,5 This is
clearly not the sense of a relation between possibility and actuality that we are
usuaHy dealing with, for example in terms of causal relations. The reason for
Aristotle's distinctiveness here is his attempt to transform the Platonic idea,
and preserve elements ofits timelessness, but to relate it materially to a world
that changes. The Platonic idea is related to form, to actuality, in terms of
dynamis, but this actuality as form is prior to aH possibilities which in sorne way
exist in an unfulfilled state in search ofa form. As Aristotle writes: 'For of non-
existent things, sorne exist potentially, but they do not exist, because they do
not exist in fulfilment.,6 This paradoxical statement only makes sorne sense
if related to the distinction between dynamis and energeia, which do es not map
straightforwardly on to a distinction between possibility and actuality. Energeia
is form insofar as it is realized in matter, a force which as immanent idea moves
matter towards a realization. Form is a substrate, a substance ofwhich the stuff
of matter partakes. This is the transposition of Platonic Ideas into Aristotelian
philosophy. The Platonic Forms or Ideas exist, but not transcendent to matter
rather as immanent to their development. Therefore, dynamis as pure possibility
is the thought of matter without form, existing in pure possibility awaiting a
form. For Aristotle, it is the ideas as substantial immanent forms that have
a higher reality than pure possibility as matter, and need to be thought of as
prior but in relation to possibility. This is why sorne non-existent things can
exist potentially, in terms of Aristotle's formulation, but not actually, because
they have not been formed, they are not existing in fulfilled form. Thus, Adorno
formulates Aristotle's conception of possibility as a reversaI of our understand-
ing of the relation between possibility and actuality: 'To state the position
paradoxically, reality in Aristotle's philosophy corresponds to what we caB pos-
sibility and possibility to what we call reality.,7 Our modern understanding of
the relation between possibility and actuality is ofpure possibility as pure form
in search of contingent content, and wh en we speak of reality or actuality we
mean something filled with a sensible content. Whereas the opposite appears
to be the case in Aristotle's thought. For Aristotle, energeia as form is the higher
102 Adorno' s Concept ofLife
form of reality, whereas pure possibility as matter is not in accordance with
the real or the actual.
For Adorno, the Aristotelian concept ofpossibility is important as a correc-
tive to the direction which the relation between possibility, actuality and neces-
sity has taken in Western metaphysical thought since Aristotle. Aristotle~s
conception of matter as pure possibility serves as a corrective to the migration
ofpossibility into a concept ofpure form in Kantian philosophy. The important
corrective in Aristotle's formulation relates to the indissoluble something as the
content of any thought, which we discussed in previous chapters. Aristotle's
definition of matter as potentiality contains the thought that there can be no
form without something as the ground for its synthesis. There must be a mate-
rial there to be formed. Adorno outlines a tension in Aristotle's theory of matter
as pure possibility, a tension which he will continue to trace in his account of
freedom. He writes:

There is a curious tension and difficulty in the concept of (jÀ,TJ (matter) in

Aristotle; on the one hand it is denigrated, disqualified, censured in every
respect, including the moral, while on the other there is the remarkable
assumption whereby this element, though heterogeneous with regard to
form, is endowed with a kind of animation, a tendency, even a certain kind
. 8
of yearmng.

This account of matter as both inseparable from possibility and freedom is cru-
cial for Adorno. His account offreedom will rely on a contradiction between a
concept of possibility as pure form which has migrated into the transcendental
subject, and an attempt to rescue this concept of matter as pure possibility, both
as ground of freedom and heterogeneous to any kind of form.
Adorno doesn't have a positive concept offreedom, rather what he outlines is
an 'idea offreedom as the possibility ofnon-identity,.9 This idea offreedom as
the possibility ofnon-identity has two elements, one that is experiential and one
that is regulative. Both are related to possibility in the sense that the regulative
idea offreedom provides a horizon which is impossible to communicate in the
current reified context. The regulative idea offreedom is Adorno's concept of
reconciliation, a reconciliation which would involve a form ofrelating between
subject and object which would not involve the annexation of that which is alien
to thought. This is the utopian horizon, it can be given no more content than
this in the current context. The experiential element of freedom is the register
within thought of something heterogeneous to thought and also constitutive for
thought. Adorno wants to think the non-identical, and more radically to experi-
ence the non-identical, not only as heterogeneous to current conceptual cate-
gories but also as deeply related to them. This is not the construction of a pure
exteriority, and indeed, the argument that we have traced in this book concern-
ing embodied thought shows that it cannot be a pure exteriority. Adorno's
thinking of the non-identical as possibility results from a deepening of the Kan-
tian antinomies offreedom and causalin'.
The Possibiliry of Living Today 103

Adorno's philosophical understanding offreedom proceeds through an ana-

lysis of Kant's third antinomy in the Critique of Pure Reason. l twill be useful
briefly to outline this argument as it is crucial for Adorno's development of the
theme. Kant proceeds in the antinomies by a statement of a thesis which is
proved by showing that its antithesis leads to nonsense. Kant's first thesis is
that there is an ultimate form of causality from which the causal chain in the
natural world is derived. He proves this thesis through the critique ofits antith-
esis, namely that the only causality in the world is that of the causal chain suc-
ceeding in an infinite regress according to rules in the natural world. Kant's
argument here is that the causal chain as a whole needs a necessary beginning
for it to be explained in terms ofits own concept of causality; that every thing
that appears presupposes a preceding state which it inevitably follows accord-
ing to a rule. There is no such preceding state for the causal chain as a whole,
and therefore to salvage the principle of causality, there must be a transcenden-
tal originating activity, which generates the causal chain. This is the realm of
transcendent al freedom. As Adorno points out, what you have here is freedom
derived from the principle of causality as its necessary ground, an 'astonishing
expansion of the concept of causality to embrace the idea of freedom, so that
freedom, too, is a causality, a causality sui generis'. 10
The other pole of the antinomy states the opposite thesis: that there is no free-
dom, and everything takes place in accordance with the laws ofnature. Kant's
argument here is that ifwe attempt to prove the antithesis ofthis statement, for
example assuming that there is a freedom as originator of the causal series, then
we postulate this freedom as an a priori category of thought, something that
makes our experience possible. But iffreedom is a category, then our experience
will be chaotic, because freedom as the opposite ofa conformity to law would be
charged wi th providing the la ws for the a pplica tion of concepts to the 0 bj ects of
possible experience for the understanding. This would make the unit y of experi-
ence impossible. Kant's conclusion from these two opposing theses is that they
arise because thought is attempting to move beyond possible experience and
thus gets enmeshed in these contradictions wh en trying to understand things
such as the sufficient ground of a causal series.
Adorno's critique is that Kant's solution to the contradiction does not take
the contradiction seriously enough. l t is the very meaning of causality that
pushes us towards these antinomic theses, not an inappropriate usage. If Kant
wants a concept of causality to operate as an a priori category for the possibility
of experience, th en he cannot just wish away the problems that such a concept
causes. Kant needs to return to this question in his moral philosophy in order to
give an account offreedom of the will, and he does so by postulating a separa-
tion between the realm of knowledge and that of morality. Freedom and law
become conjoined in a pure practical reason, in the form ofthe morallaw. The
morallaw is formed through the only legitimate use of reason beyond experi-
ence in the Kantian philosophy, and in this legitimate usage ofreason beyond
experience, we also arrive at a legitimate concept offreedom as the morallaw
which is not subject to any external conditions. For Adorno, the categorical
104 Adorno's Concept ofLife
imperative is this uncoupling offreedom from experience in a rigid refusaI that
anything materiai or affective shouid matter in morality:

... the very strange coupling offreedom and law that is contained in the cate-
gorical imperative is arrived at in such a way that the principle offreedom
should itselfbe nothing but reason, pure reason, and that it shouid not be sub-
ject to constraints by anything external, alien to it that is itselfnot rational. Il

Adorno argues that this move in the moral philosophy institutes a form of
freedom which is removed from the realm of experience and practice and thus
tends to view anything that is external to it as an impingement on its opera-
tion. Furthermore, in its equation offreedom with law, it restricts the bounds
for free choice far more than the concept of natural causality does in the third
Adorno wants to return to the contradictions outlined in the third antinomy
to see ifthey point towards an experience offreedom that is not compromised in
the way that we see with the moral law. In Negative Dialectics, Adorno will
attempt to deepen and inflect the Kantian antinomy of causality and freedom
in order to open the possibility of a different and freer way ofliving, the 'possi-
bility to be another than one is'. 12
Adorno's analyses of concepts offreedom and causality stresses the levels at
which these concepts are enmeshed in relations between society, individual and
nature, and it is not straightforward to disentangle a concept offreedom as pos-
sibility in opposition to necessity as conformity to law. When such polar con-
cepts are postulated they tend to be false and tend to accord with the concept
ofidentity. Ifwe take the concept of causality, and its increasing indetermina-
tion as a concept in both science and society a t large, this can be taken as an
index of a growing realm of possibility and freedom within realms that were
previously considered subject to rigorous laws and rules. However, to read this
move away from a simple model of causation as necessarily increasing possibi-
lities is to ignore the relation between society and concepts such as causality. For
Adorno, the concept ofcausality hasjust relocated itselfinto the system itself:

Causality has withdrawn to totality, so to speak. Amidst its system it is no

longer distinguishable. The more its concept heeds the scientific mandate to
attenuate into abstractness, the less will the simultaneously ultra-condensed
web of a universally socialized society permit one condition to be traced back
with evidentiality to another condition. 13

This is not praise for scientific reductionism, but the argument that develop-
ments in the understanding of causality have a certain relationship with the
societal whole, and that the inability to trace an evidential ground through
diffuse informationai codes and networks can have the effect of entrenching
power, in the sense that the project of understanding becomes more abstract
and complex. 14
The Possibility of Living Today 105
A deeper reflection on the causal principle pushes us to the thought of some-
thing that is not thought, that is beyond the realm of identifications. The
attempt to trace back a series ofthoughts in a causal chain inevitably pushes us
to the limits of our identifications. In this sense, a reflection on causality leads to
possibility because possibility lies in what is non-identical with thought. There-
fore, in Adorno's thought, rather than an opposition between possibility and
actuality, necessity and contingency, there is a deeper opposition between id en-
tity and non-identity. Reflection on causality can lead us to the possibility of
non-identity and it is the possibility ofnon-identity that is freedom.
What does this mean? The non-identical must be thought materially as that
something which is both within thought (as the body) and therefore moves
thought, but that is also heterogeneous to aU attempts to identify it concep-
tually. So Adorno states that 'if the hand no longer twitched, there would be
no will' .15 The idea offreedom as the action of an individu al without determin-
ing external factors, freely chosen in accordance with freely adopted motives,
is challenged by Adorno: ' ... what would be equally free is that which is
not tamed by the "1" as the principle of any determination' .16 Freedom in this
sense would be a relation with that which is non-identical to the 'l', which
could be rationally and discursively presented, the communication of differen-
tiation. According to Adorno's account of conceptuality, this is not currently
possible, and would calI for a change in the mode of production and organiza-
tion of society.
Nevertheless this concept offreedom as that which escapes the grasp of the
subjective principle is an attempt to correct the equation in Kantian philosophy
ofpossibility with the form of experience, rather than with its content. Adorno
tries to think possibility equally as something that escapes aIl form and exists as
a pure possibility without form, in Aristotelian terms. However, this pure possi-
bility must register in experience in sorne way.
The problem for the concept of possibility is its link to any actualization.
Given the account of the dialectic of enlightenment which has stated that
enlightenment reverts to myth, in the specific form of a human subjectivity
which denies its life in order to preserve it, how can there be a possibility of
that which is impossible in the current context, the experience of life itself?
Adorno needs to give an account of possibility as openness to experience that is
produced through a determinate negation of the false state of damaged life.

Metaphysical Experience

Metaphysical experience is linked to the possibility of life as it is only at the

margins of experience that a form oflife not totally subsumed by the structures
of capitalist society can be found. This presumes that at a certain point in the
process of a disintegration of reified experience, a breakthrough occurs imma-
nently as a result of a dialectical process of the deepening of contradictions,
which then results in an experience that is tied to materiality. For Adorno, this
106 Adorno's Concept ofLife
is an experience oflife, but an experience oflife in its deadened form. This is the
importance ofBenjamin's account of the allegorical for Adorno. In the allegory,
the observer is presented with a vision of the natural world as petrified, dea-
dened. Such an experience of the present is, at the same time, a painful protest,
an experience ofshock and horror at the dissolution ofsubjectivity, but a disso-
lution that has in this negative experience a moment of awakening to possibili-
ties. Rather than conceiving this awakening in relation to the point between
sleep and consciousness, or through thinking of dream states and waking
states, one could see this as a philosophy of exhaustion. Only at a. point of
exhaustion in the dialectical contradictions is the experience ofpossibility regis-
tered in the utterance of the exhausted metaphysical experience, 'is that aIl?'
This is the form of revelation within the breakthrough of the present moment,
but it can only exist as such in relation to what has gone before and what is to
come. The process is one of exhaustion of the contradictions of experience itself.
This is not therefore an affirmative concept of potentiality, but an opening to
the possibility of the future, the possibility that things might be altered.
However, there is still a question as to why this dissolution does not remain
only a dissolution. The experience of dissolution itself becomes the experience
of an openness constitutive of possibility: that things might be different. The
grounding for the rescue of such an experience lies in Adorno's complex and
confusing uses of the concepts of redemption and reconciliation. My inter-
pretation of these two concepts and their interrelation will serve as a means
of questioning the possibility of metaphysical experience. Adorno's concept of
redemption is as a negative redemptive experience, an experience that does not
fulfil or rescue that which is forgotten, but that reveals in an explosive moment
of time, a deadened and unreconciled experience. However, such a moment of
negative redemption, because of its unfulfilled nature gives an image in reverse
of the possibility of reconciliation, a reconciliation which lies not in a unit y
of subject and object, but in the experience of their non-identity. This nega-
tive redemptive moment serves as a vacuum which dissolves subjectivity of its
rigidity as ego, but at the same time illumina tes the world as a deadened exis-
tence, as the possibility of a constructed eternal; capitalism itself as eternity
constructed in a transient mode. The stasis of the negative redemptive time
serves as a mirror for the stasis ofsociety, but at the same time arrests the process
of decay, even for a moment. This arrest provides a perspective from which the
possibility ofreconciliation can be viewed in negative terms. This process is one
of a bodily exhaustion, and it is in a number of different figures of the exhausted
that I want to read a series of experiences that will conjoin redemption and
reconciliation in differing ways. Rather than reading Adorno's concepts of
reconciliation and redemption as either a privileging of one term over the
other, or a theological gesture, 1 will attempt to put into play, through an inter-
rogation of figures of exhausted life, certain contradictions in the way these fig-
ures relate to the concept ofmetaphysical experience. In this way, I hope to give
an account of the concepts ofredemption and reconciliation that do es not rely
on a single aphorism, or theoretical construction within Adorno's work, but
The Possibility of Living Today 107

remains faithful to the contradictions implicit within any attempt at thinking

metaphysical experience. Having said that, my guiding interpretation here is
that a pUI'ely theological or aesthetic reading of Adorno's concept of redemp-
tion is mistaken, and a reading of the concept ofreconciliation as a unit y ofsub-
ject and object is also fundamentally mistaken. 17

Redernption and Reconciliation

Giorgio Agamben has provided a recent critique of Adorno's aphorism on

redemption that begins by citing an argument by Jacob Taubes. Taubes
writes that Adorno's concept of a standpoint ofredemption results in a gesture
of an 'as if' taken towards the possi bili ty of redem ption tha t resul ts in an aesthe-
ticization of redemption. Such an aestheticization results in the ultimate indif-
ference to the possibility of redemption itself contained in Adorno's statement
that whether redemption actually occurs 'itself hardly matters' .18 Taubes
argues that Adorno refuses an affirmative concept of redemption, because of
his reliance on aesthetics, and particularly music, as the only place for salvation
within a fallen humanity.19 However, for Adorno, music serves as a model of
reconciled practice that never finally achieves a salvation. Music is not redemp-
tive, but sorne ofits forms serve as a model ofreconciliation. Redemption is not,
therefore, perceived as an aesthetic elevation of a stand point differentia ted from
the world, but as an attempt to think the possibility ofsomething that might be
different from the current status quo. The modernist art work itself proceeds
through its own decayed forms to present a model of the destruction of experi-
ence through its lack of an affirmation of art's ineffability or dignity. Taubes'
accusation of a straightforward aestheticization fails to articula te how such an
aestheticization becomes an immanent construction of an image of the destruc-
tion of experience within modernity. Aestheticization does not presume a posi-
tion outside or removed from society. However, it does presume that
redemption is not possible.
Agamben proposes a reading of Adorno's aphorism at the end of Minima
.:.\1oralia alongside the first lines of Negative Dialectics. The reason why the stand-
point of redemption must remain an 'as if' is because philosophy has missed
the opportunity to realize itself. Redemption is impossible because philosophy
has missed the moment for its realization. 2o The reduction of the concept of
redemption results from this analysis that there was a moment in history for
philosophy to realize itself, in Marxist terms, as an actuality, to change the
world, but this possibility has been missed. However, Agamben's reading of
these two passages together does not take into account that the failure of philo-
sophy to realize itself is a failure not of redemption, but of a fulfilment of the
promises ofphilosophy. The actualization ofphilosophy relates to a concept of
a fulfilled philosophy in actuality. What 1 will argue is that this failure does not
call forth redemption, but a necessity for a new concept of reconciliation, which
does not lie in completion or fulfilment. 1t is not that the failure of philosophy to
108 Adorno' s Concept ofLijè
realize itselfresults in an invocation ofa standpoint ofredemption that is impos-
sible, but that it caUs for a changed concept ofreconciliation, which in the cur-
rent reified context can only be outlined through a negative experience of
redemption. For Agamben, the key modality for Adorno's whole work becomes
a modality of impotenitality. This mode of impotentiality results in a funda-
mentally non-messianic thought, because ultimately Adorno do es not see any
grounds for the recuperation ofthat which has been absolutely lost and forgot-
ten. A true thought of redemption would emphasize the 'unforgettable' as an
exigency within thought that can never materialize itself other than through a
redemptive gathering oftime. Thus, Agamben argues that: 'Despite its appear-
ance, negative dialectics is a thought which is absolutely not messianic', and
because ofits inability to think the redemptive moment other than an 'as if' it
becomes a form of 'ressentiment' in Nietzsche's terrns, a philosophy which pun-
ishes itselfthrough its refusaI to affirm anyform ofredemption. 21 For Agamben,
the conclusion of Minima M aralia serves as the final seal of such a 'ressentiment',
because the whole attempt at a reflection From damaged life without the possi-
bility of redemption reduces philosophy to the ethical justification of such a
resentment at life.
The messianic, for Agamben, is not a 'standpoint', but the dissolution of
any subjective position which could look on and regard the world From a posi-
tion 'as if' something had taken or were taking place. That which is redeemed
is the absolutely fallen spirit, as that which can only be saved when it is abso-
lutely lost. 22 Agamben's thinking relates the experience of potentiality as to
the experience of a messianic time, a 'time that remains'. The messianic time is
the time ofthis remnant that holds itself as potentiality withdrawn From every-
day temporality awaiting its completion in the time ofredemption. The messia-
nic time is a time that 'contracts itself and begins to finish'. 23 Messianic time is,
therefore, a time that holds itselfin a space between chronological time and the
time of redemption. It is the time that is waiting for its fulfilment as redemp-
tive time. However, in a characteristic move, Agamben attempts to think this
not as pure deferment, but as the time of a certain achievement, the time that it
takes for us to achieve a representation of time, which would not be a spatial
representation in terms of the chronological time of the instant, or a historical
time ofpast, present and future, but a representation that would be adequate to
the end of time in the time of redem ption. Agam ben' s concept of messianic time
is explicitly dependent on Benjamin's conception of a time that can both inter-
rupt and open up the possibility of a completion ofhistory. This gesture at com-
pletion is not a completed redemption, but a perspective on redemption that
occurs within the historical as the insight into the completion of the historical
in the time of redemption. However, it is difficult to understand what this
redemption as the completion of history could be here, whether thought in
terms of the Name, or in terms of the completion ofhistorical time in the time
of redemption.
The opposite critique from the one offered by Agamben has also been tar-
geted at Adorno's concept of redemption. This critique argues that Adorno
The Possibility of Living Today 109

smuggles in a theological notion of redemption which reduces the force of an

emphasis on the immanent context. The standpoint of redemption can there-
fore only be thought as either a regulative ideal, or a more esoteric form of
the phenomenological epoche, an injunction to adopt a voluntary position
or induce oneselfinto a state of observation from a redemptive standpoint. 24
Adorno's invocation of such a theological concept is read as a refusaI of the
logic ofimmanence implicit within his philosophical methodology of a dialectic
without sublation.
What both these critiques, from different extremes, miss is that Adorno's con-
cept ofredemption is a negative, secularized concept of the redemptive. This is
its 'as if', or semblance character. l t is certainly not the adoption of a position
outside ofsociety, but the attempt to construct within the immanent constraints
of possible experience the revelation of such an experience as a form of damaged
life. The standpoint of redemption is a constructed experience, not an adopted
posture. It is the result of a process ofnegative dialectics, not the initiating pre-
supposition. Redemptive concepts thus take on a negative hue when used by
Adorno. The temporality of the standpoint of redemption is a stasis, an arrest
oftime, but in its arresting oftime it does not fulfil time, but mirrors the eternal
arrest of change within capitalist society. It reveals the supposedly transient as
the same. Adorno's temporality ofbreakthrough relates to a certain heighten-
ing of an instant oftime that dissolves subjectivity, but the dissolution of subjec-
tivity is only an instant, it doesn't complete time or fill out time. In fact, it
returns the subject to a time that appears even more the empty succession of
chronological time. The moment of the shattering of experience, whether
through an achieved aesthetic experience or through the chance coming
together of different elements of experience, is an experience that separates the
ego from its drive for self-preservation which has sedimented itself as the formaI
principle ofreason. However, no one can live in such a state, but the return from
such a dissolution results in an exhaustion, which points to the recognition that
there is more thanjust the reified context and things could be different.
The concept of a remnant that is saved within a messianism is inflected
through an experience of the waste or remains of a life itself. The remnant that
is saved in messianic time is not that which is eternal and unforgettable, opposed
to the contingent, but the remnants or ruins oflife itself. The remnant cannot be
thought as something unforgettable, yet irrecoverable other than in the time of
redemption, but only as that exigency which remains as life within the subject,
as that which is transient and could be lost. Adorno's thinking of this loss is th us
far more pessimistic th an a thinking of the unforgettable, as it is the possibility of
losing something that precisely cannot be redeemed. Agamben writes of the
unforgettable as an exigency that exists within thought, that cannot be recov-
ered or return to experience, or even manifest itself in the register of a return of
the repressed. That which is lost, yet unforgettable, can only be redeemed
not remembered. For Adorno, the exigency within thought is not the unforget-
table but the non-identical, and that which is non-identical is not irreparably
lost to thought, but suppressed and dominated by thought as identity thinking.
110 Adorno's Concept ofLife
The negative moment ofredemption, in terms ofa form oflooking towards the
past, is the revelation of aU that has been lost, and that is beyond redemption.
Furthermore, the redemptive moment is not of the spirit, but a bodily exhaus-
tion. Such a bodily exhaustion pre-figures certain moments that open up the
possibility of a different form oflife within the subject.
However, the possibilities opened up by different forms of exhaustion relate
in fundamentaUy different ways to Adorno's concept ofreconciliation. Recon-
ciliation does not lie in a move beyond subject and object, but in a form of
cognition and a state of society which could aUow a relationship between
subject and object that would not be dominating. Adorno describes it in the
following terms:

Reconcilement would release the non-identical, would rid it of coercion,

including spiritualized coercion; it would open the road to the multiplicity
of different things and strip dialectics of its power over them. Reconcilement
would be the thought of the many as no longer inimical, a thought that is
anathema to subjective reason. 25

Reconciliation in terms ofboth reason and society, would be that state in which
what was alien to thought and identification remains in its difference in
thought. This would be a different model offulfilled experience. This fulfilment
does not lie in completion, or even rational identification, in the sense of a com-
pleted coincidence ofsubject and object. Error, fallibility, the fact that thought
fails in its identifications, would aU still be the marks of a reconciled society, but
these would be constitutive characteristics of a rational experience itself.
The negative experience of a form of redemption opens up the possibility of
reconciliation, in the sense that the lack of completion and fulfilment in a nega-
tive experience of redemption can give us a weak image of reconciliation. This
image ofreconciliation would be that which, in its incompletion, would appear
as incomplete, and en able a form of experience which could rest with such an
incompletion. Willem Van Reijen has argued that redemption is figured as the
vanishing point of reconciliation. 26 What he means by this is that the redemp-
tive moment ceases to be figured other th an as a minuscule moment offulfilment
that can be understood through the concept ofreconciliation. My interpreta-
tion is the opposite. The negative experience ofredemption opens up the possi-
bility ofreconciliation, through its negative reflection of the lack offulfilment
and openness within a certain exhausted experience. Such an experience figures
reconciliation as its vanishing point in two ways. First, the revelation of the
world as that which is dead, both within the subject and without, dissolves
the imperialism ofsubjectivity as the empty form which trusts in its own ability
to identify completely the object. Second, the realization ofits own fallibility,
error and dependence on objectivity opens up the possibility ofa different form
Reconciliation as the varùshing point of a negative experience of redemption
is produced in a series of figures of exhaustion. It is through an account of
The Possibility of Living Today III
certain figures of exhaustion, particularly as bodily exhaustion, that Adorno
wants to relate the possibility of an experience that will open up the subject in
its dissolution to its own conditionality. This is an opening that can figure either
reconciliation or extreme degradation. However, this is the true demand of the
negative redemptive experience, in that it figures the possibility of reconcilia-
tion, and this is why the demand that thought must comprehend its 'own impos-
sibility for the sake of the possible' supersedes any invocation of the reality of
redemption. The demand ofthought to comprehend its own impossibility pro-
ceeds through an experience of'consummate negativity' which can become the
'mirror image ofits opposite,.27 But how precisely does this consummate nega-
tivity, this experience of the impossible, produce possibility? It is far from guar-
anteed. But through an examination of certain figures or modes of exhaustion
we can explore the relationship between concepts of reconciliation, redemp-
tion, possibility and impossibility, to try and articulate what Adorno's concept
of a metaphysical experience means.
Chapter 8

Exhausted Life

Figures of Exhaustion

A Beckett
In an essay on Beckett's work entitled 'The Exhausted' Gilles Deleuze eluci-
dates several forms of exhaustion within Beckett's work. 1 The figure of the
exhausted relates to an exhaustion ofpossibility. The difference between tired-
ness and exhaustion, for Deleuze, is characterized by a different relation to
possibility. The tired person is tired through an inability to realize a par-
ticular possibility, whereas the exhausted person exhausts the possible itself:
'He exhausts himself in exhausting the possible, and vice-versa. He exhausts
that which, in the possible, is not realised.,2 In this exhaustion, there is nothing
left to realize, only the nothingness that lies at the end of an exhaustive series of
possibilities. What Beckett combines, for Deleuze, is:

... a keen sense or science of the possible, joined or rather disjoined with a
fantastic decomposition of the self ... the greatest exactitude and the most
extreme dissolution: the indefinite exchange of mathematical formulations
and the pursuit of the formless or unformulated. These are two meanings of
exhaustion, and both are necessary in order to abolish the real. 3

The question raised by Beckett's figures of exhaustion is how through such a dis-
solution ofsubjectivity alongside the exhaustion of the real, a space for a think-
ing of possibility itself can be opened up by the exhaustion of actual possibilities.
For Adorno, such an exhaustion opens up possibility because the experience of
Beckett's works reveals the loss of subjectivity and the lack of experience in mod-
ernity and th us negatively images the possibility that something else might
happen. There is a closeness between an idea of freedom as the possibility of
non-identity and an exhausted humanity that would be just a deadened form
of the non-identical. Adorno writes that: 'Nonidentity is both the historical
disintegration of the unit y of the subject and the emergence of something that
is not itselfsubject.,4 However, this non-identity can be either freedom or hell~
dependent on the form in which such a disintegration of the subject occurs:
which de termines what emerges as that which is not subject. Beckett's play
Endgame delineates the closeness of a thinking of reconciliation and death as a
Exhausted Life 113
state of complete peace, astate ofindifferentiation which does not allow for any
thinking of the non-identical or the subject.
This negative image oflife serves as an outline of its defects, in the form of a
negative ontology. What Beckett presents in Endgame serves as an image offalse
life which the audience can recognize as its own life. It can reflect the possibility
that such a presentation of an eternal time is therefore actually a constructed
one and could therefore be changed. The exhaustive series of combinations
that Beckett presents in his plays and novels (for example, the different combi-
na tions of sucking stones in M olloy, the exhaustion of a language in repea ted and
meaningless forms, and the reduced space and temporality of the plays which
take place in a no-man's-land) aIl present the paradoxical idea that there is no
content to life any longer, other than one of abstract domination. However, this
purely immanent exhaustion of possibilities for life within works such as End-
game opens up the critical thought that, in this exhaustion, there may be a
glimpse or a possibility that things could be altered; as Adorno writes:

The immanent contradiction of the absurd, the nonsense in which reason ter-
minates, opens up the emphatic possibility of something true that cannot
even be conceived of anymore. It undermines the absolu te daim of the
status quo, that which simply is the way it is. Negative on toi ogy is the nega-
tion of ontology: it was history alone that produced what the mythical power
ofthe timeless and eternal has appropriated. 5

The question posed by Endgame is wh ether, in the immanent context of such

a reduction of life, there can be any possibility of a reconciliation or redemp-
tion which can be disentangled from such an absolu te domination. The need
for a new concept of reconciliation results from the similarity between the
end state of humanity as depicted in the play, and the time of absolute peace
in a traditional concept of reconciliation. Adorno describes Hamm's hanker-
ing after such an end state as a time of peace, in which aIl could be stillness
and there would be no endless, repetitive and exhausted series of possibilities.
However, the figure of exhaustion in Beckett predudes a time ofpeace or rest.
The point at which the end cornes becomes an endlessly vanishing moment, as
beyond words, there is not silence, but voices, gestures, breaths themselves.
Beckett's works give the lie to any easy concept of a reconciliation of life.
As Adorno writes:

The Old Testament 'dust thou shalt become' is translated into: filth. Excre-
tions become the substance of a life that is death. But the imageless image
of death is an image of indifference, that is, astate prior to differentiation.
In that image the distinction between absolute domination - the heIl in
which time is completely confined within space, in which absolutely nothing
changes any more and the messianic sta te in which everything would be
in its rightful place, disappears. The last absurdity is that the peacefulness
of the void and the peacefulness of reconciliation cannot be distinguished
from one another. 6
114 Adorno's Concept of Life
Such an insight demands a concept ofreconciliation that is not a unit y ofsubject
and object in an achieved indifference or a prior indifference, but a concept of
reconciliation that is constructed as the experience of a form of rationality that
would be constituted by its failure to identify completely, by error and fallibi-
lity. It is through a second figure of exhaustion, that ofhappiness, that Adorno
reads This concept of reconciliation.

B Proust and Happiness

Adorno's characterization of metaphysical experience relates to the future in
terms of happiness, an experience that he characterizes in Proustian terms in
the form of the promise of the place-name:
One thinks tha t going there would bring the fulfillmen t, as if there were such a
thing. Being really there makes the promise recede like a rainbow. And yet
one is not disappointed ... what it takes to form this universal, This authentic
part of Proust's presentation, is to be entranced in one place without squint-
ing at the universa1. 7
The important insight here is not necessarily the experience of the promise of
happiness and its inevitable failure, it is the model of experience contained in
the happiness of the place-name itself, which means that the disappointment is
not experienced when the place do es not fulfil the requirements hoped for. This
is undoubtedly a model of transcendence, experience as transcendence, but
it is distinctive metaphysically in that it is related to experiences rather than
intellectual intuitions. In his essays on Ernst Bloch's work, Adorno gives more
content to this experience of a lack offulfilment, as the experience of an opening
to a different possibility of relating to the world. In his essay on Bloch's Spirit
of Utopia, Adorno relates the 'early experience' of reading the text at the age of
17 as a metaphysical experience itself, which connects with both the presenta-
tion and the content of Bloch's writings. This experience is described as an
'amazement'. This amazement is occasioned by the form of the writing as
much as the content, and a certain intensity oftemporality in the reading. The
speeded-up tempo of the text expresses the attempt at a breakthrough in every
line of the text, and it challenges any attempt to contemplate the object at hand
peacefully, constantly jolting the reader on to the next sentence. This reflects
the content of the work, which Adorno conceives as a rediscovery of an original
motivation within philosophy, that of an amazement, but turned not towards
the Platonic Idea~ but to the 'individual things'. What is discovered from this
attention freed from convention is less important than the act itself. It is the
act of experience changed through an interpretation that pro duces the model
of experience, not its fulfilment. b In his essay on Bloch's Spuren, Adorno refers
to the childhood experience that Bloch elucidates of a feeling that, amidst the
everyday world, 'there is something going on', which cannot be easily accessed.
The remembrance of such a feeling in adulthood, a feeling analogous to the one
of amazement we just mentioned, brings about a negative inflection of such a
Exhausted Life 115

metaphysical experience in terms of a reflection on current life, revolving

around the phrase, 'is that aIl?' The division ofhappiness into a happiness that
is close and fulfilled, and a sublimation of a happiness in a heightened, subli-
mated form as something elevated beyond the material (a division which
Adorno attributes to Goethe), is forced back together in Bloch's writing and in
metaphysical experience itself. 9 Happiness cornes from investing hope in the
mundane everyday and transforming it into something it is not, but could be.
This happiness cannot be adequately represented or discursively communi-
cated, as the very structure of an experience ofhappiness, is that, when one is
in a state of happiness it is impossible to know. Happiness is only recovered
through memory. Thus, Adorno writes: 'To happiness the same applies as ta
truth: one does not have it but is in it ... He who says he is happy lies, and in
invoking happiness, sins against it. He alone keeps faith who says: 1 was The problem with Bloch's philosophy is that he turrlS these experi-
ences into the elements of a metaphysical system, and thus betrays their parti-
cularity. Adorno argues that the particular is ultimately sacrificed to a moment
ofbreakthrough and a utopia, and thus the metaphysical experience becomes
absolutized in its relation to redemption.
What would be a breakthrough that didn't turn itself into an absolute?
Adorno tries to think this in terms of the Proustian place-name or the child-
hood experience of amazement, experiences that are fundamentally unfulfilled
and cannot be fulfilled, so the breakthrough is th en turned back negatively and
reflected on to the contemporary situation from which it emerges. The break-
through is not a transcendent bursting of the bonds of immanence, but a form
of transcendence which immediately reflects back on to the current reified
context. These breakthroughs are often configured as changes in the lived
experience of temporality, but these are not permanent changes in temporal
experience, or even glimpses of a world beyond, but a slight shift of the imma-
nent context. These changes in temporality can be oriented towards the past or
the future depending on the particular experience involved. For example~
Adorno writes of the déjà vu which can open up the possibility of a different rela-
tion towards the past, and the experience of a 'fruitless waiting', which both
lengthens a certain lived experience of time in the moment of the waiting, and
in its fruitlessness disarms the subject in two ways. First, to wait fruitlessly causes
a reflection on what was waited for, and the whole process of why the thing
waited for was given such worth and dignity in the first place. Thus, the experi-
ence causes a reflection on the process ofdesire and how that desire is being con-
structed. The second moment, in the experience offruitless waiting, is that in
this reflection the subject realizes that this is a model for experience as a whole,
a waiting for something to happen that never does, which causes the question of
'is that all ?'. This triggers a reflection on what experience is and could be, and
that this fallible experience could open the possibility for a form of experience
which didn't model itself on the concept of a possession or a fulfilment.
Such an experience is an exhaustion because aIl that is hoped for and
invested in the place-name fails to actualize itselfin the reality of the visit. The
116 Adorno's Concept ofLife
experience of'is that aIl?', or the hopeful yet disappointed waiting, empties out
subjectivity, yet opens it to the possibility of a life that is marked not by a
dominating fullness, but by an exaggeration, a constant missing of the mark.
This experience has its confirmation in the form of a construction of constella-
tions of concepts which in the gaps that they create between identifying judge-
ments aim to create a model of experience which is not fulfilled or able to be
fulfilled. This is a model for a life lived, not in the enumeration ofits successes,
but in the awareness that a life completes its course only in a deviation from
its original premises. Such a deviation though is still a loss, in that it marks the
impossibility of the identification aimed at in the form of the judgement. But
the failure (indeed, impossibility) of such an identification opens itself to the
possibility of that which is non-identical with thought. In Minima Moralia,
Adorno writes that:

If a life fulfilled its vocation directly, it would miss it. Anyone who dies old
and in consciousness of seemingly blameless success, would secretly be the
model schoolboy who reels off alllife's successes without gaps or omissions,
an invisible satchel on his back. Every thought which is not idle, bears
branded on it the impossibility ofits fulllegitimation, as we know in dreams
that there are mathematics lessons, missed for the sake of a blissful morning in
bed, which can never be made up. Il

The title of this aphorism is 'Gaps'. It is through these gaps in experience that
the possibility of reconciliation via a lack of completion and fulfilment can be
figured, but only in a negative form as the result of a certain exhaustion of
experience that is not disappointment or failure, but, in its loss, opens itself to
something in life not encapsulated in the form ofan identifyingjudgement.

C Kafka and Gesture

In his essay on Kafka, Adorno emphasizes the particularity of details within the
works, details which protrude and are immediately incommensurable with any
greater meaning. Adorno's intention is to defl.ect an immediately symbolic
reading of Kafka's texts in terms of an existentialist drama of an individuality
fatefully existing in an absurd universe. The particularity that most captures
Adorno's attention in Kafka's texts is the emphasis on gestures, both linguistic
and non-linguistic. Adorno describes a certain characteristic linguistic gesture
ofKafka's in the form of the parable. Kafka's writing often functions through a
parable which has no key to interpretation. The sentences affirm an emphatic
meaning which when interrogated fails to appear. In this sense, they are analo-
gous to a linguistic gesture, a statement such as 'that is the way it is' which dis-
solves when the interpreter attempts to decode it. The parable without a key for
its interpretation exhausts all meaning in its emphatic presentation as indeci-
pherable linguistic gesture. 12 This linguistic gesture is punctuated by a whole
series of bodily gestures and physiognomies that are clearly delineated but
Exhausted Life 117
hard to understand. There are the figures such as the metamorphosis of Gregor
Samsa into the giant bug in Metamorphosis, and Kafka's many peculiar animal
fables ('Investigations of a Dog', 'Josephine the Mouse Singer'), but also small
details in the novels themselves such as Leni's fingers being connected by a
web ofskin in The Trial, or the frequent descriptions ofwhat psychiatry terms
'inappropriate affect', the accompanying ofsad words with laughter, for exam-
pIe. The physical gestures punctuate and dislocate the linguistic gestures:
'Gestures often serve as counterpoints to words: the prelinguistic that eludes aIl
intention upsets the ambiguity, which, like a disease, has eaten into aIl significa-
tion in Kafka.'13
The prelinguistic, though, is not a bodily moment that can be returned to as if
it had not been affected by any destruction ofsubjectivity. It is not in the bodily
gesture that a humanity can refound its embodiment, but the gesture, unwilled,
lights up the fate of a certain form of embodiment as a destruction of experience.
What occurs with the bodily gesture in Kafka is, at the same time, something
eternal and ephemeral, slowed down to a point of standstill. The gesture takes
on the aura of an eternalized image, but at the same time is purely ephemeral,
unwilled and transitory. Although Adorno does not refer to this, one thinks of a
fugue state of schizophrenia, a slowed-down, indecipherable, ephemeral, yet
completely emphatic non-linguistic gesturing. Adorno refers to such gestures
as 'eternalized' and they have the effect, like Benjamin's dialectical images, of
bringing 'the momentary to a standstill' .14 The gesture is an extreme form of
individuation, the bodily expression of meaning without language and often
without intention, but it returns in Kafka as a horrific revelation of something
beyond the subjective ego, the revelation of an alienated yet precarious life
within the subject. The subject is frightened by its own gestures, and those of
others, and, at the same time, invests them with an emphatic and premonitory
meaning. What this moment reveals in Kafka's work is a moment ofregression,
marked by a revelation of the objectivity within the subject: 'The crucial
moment, however, toward which everything in Kafka is directed is that in
which men become aware that they are not themselves - that they themselves
are things.' 15 This awareness is horrific, but also opens up a dissolution of sub-
jectivity which can reveal itselfin the momentary time of a 'now' which does not
complete time, but arrests life itselfin the gesture, and in this arrest returns the
subject to aIl that it depends on and aIl it has lost as embodiment. There is a
closeness to a redemptive reading of gesture in Adorno here, but the final move
of a gathering of this temporal breakthrough as a redemption of aIl that is lost in
a completion oftime is lacking. There is no completion, only momentary arrest,
and no fulfilment, but only a form of extreme dissociation. The destruction of
gesture does not presume an absolute gesturality to which it relates, but only
the loss of any relation to the gesture as such.
Agamben writes on gesture in a very similar way, of the gesture being a
figure of: ' ... (an) annihilated human existence, its "negative outline", and at
the same time, its self-transcendence not toward a beyond but ... in a profane
mystery whose sole object is existence itsel[d6 The 'profane mystery' is related
118 Adorno's Concept ofLijè
to a concept of an absolute gesturality, which Agamben then outlines as the
sphere ofa redemptive politics, a politics that would relate itselfto an 'absolute
gesturality ofhuman beings'. 1ï But there is no positive redemption of an abso-
lute gesturality in Adorno's negative thinking of the gesture. The similarity
with a redemptive experience is that the gesture is an index of absolute loss, as
horror, the body confronting the subject as something beyond its control, and in
that moment ofbeing beyond control, the gesture also figures a form ofreconci-
liation, a life which could be surprised by the excess ofits own embodiment over
· su b'~ectIvlty.
t he structures 0 f ltS .. 18

D Music in the Background

In an early essay from 1934, entitled 'Music in the Background', Adorno
analyses the phenomenon of café music, or incidental music. Music has been
pushed into the background, into a reified or incident al form oflistening. The
music itself is reduced to its barest and degraded form, and often played in
speciaIly conceived arrangements, and with particular exaggerated effects.
However, something still survives in the ruin ofthis music and in the interplay
of the music and the people in the café. The pale resemblance of the original
music still has the effect of offering a certain illumination to the surroundings.
It offers such an illumination in two ways. First, as objective ruin amongst a
reified scene it imitates and confirms this scene, precisely as a kind of ghostly
mood music. Adorno writes of this effect in the following way: 'The cold-
ness from table to table: the strangeness between the young gentleman and
the unknown girl across from him ... coldness, desire, the strangeness between
the two - the music transports it with an abrupt gesture into the stars, like the
name of Ariadne abandoned.,19 The equivalence between the coldness of
the situation in the café and the confirmation of such a situation by the music
provides an independent testimony of the ruin of experience.
However, the second moment in this account of background music is the
moment when a piece of music attempts to break through, to reveal itself
and stake its daim beyond the ruin ofits own arrangement, context and recep-
tion. The dissolution of the music in both its arrangement, and the context in
which it is arranged, nevertheless expresses an intimation of its original form,
an intimation which is presented as a ruin of that form. This dissolution of
the essence of the music does not make the music faH silent, does not stop at
dissolution, as a completed process of dissolution would make the works fall
silent. There is in this ruined form, a dissolution that is still audible:

The question is only whether they stop at dissolution. In dissolution the works
faIl silent. Here, they become audible once again. Not, it is true, they them-
selves, in their structured form. But the ruins oftheir sound have beenjoined
together in a second, strangely transparent form. The first fiddler does not
make the noble melody ordinary with his soloistic intrusiveness: it has
already lost its noble character and therefore abandons itself to the fiddler.
Exhausted Life 119
The truly noble melody will shine like a star against the background: one
hears it as music. 20

The shock of the music as it is experienced by the listener who is not listening is a
form of awakening, but what they are awakening to is a ruin itself: a ruin of a
certain tradition. There is no complete moment of rescue here though, no com-
pleted transcendence, but just the realization that what the listener hears
despite themselves, what breaks through, is itself only breaking through in a
degraded form. It cannot be recuperated or redeemed, but it can open the pos-
sibility of a different way of being, something beyond this current experience:
alongside this frustration of an awareness that the current experience is not
itself all there is for experience. Thus, Adorno's quotation of a phrase from
Karl Kraus is appropriate here, in that what is revealed is that: 'Nothing is
true, and it is possible that something else will happen.,21 As a motto for a meta-
physical experience, this serves quite well, and it shows the distance in Adorno's
concept of metaphysical experience from any affirmative idea of redemption.
The breakthrough is not conceived in terms of its relation to redemption, but
its relations both to an extreme negation and an extreme possibility: nothing is
true and something else might happen.

E 'Rien faire com.m.e une bête'

In his aphorism, 'Sur l'Eau', Adorno outlines a form ofnegativity without any
use, as a form oflife analogous to a bestial existence. Such a life would not func-
tion in terms of productive goals, but remains within itself: as a body with noth-
ing to realize, 'Rienfaire comme une bête', lying on water and looking peacefully at
the sky.22 Such an existence is without need or fulfilment, and encapsulates a
certain form ofbeing nothing. There is nothing but absolute peace here, a life
that exists as a nothingness. The aphorism serves the purpose of a negation of a
productivist concept of utopia, and replaces it with a concept of utopia as abso-
lute peace. However, neither ofthese concepts rest as an ontological first or as
an absolute emphasis upon a transgressive sovereignty of experience. The idea
of absolute peace, which we have seen in the comments on Beckett and Kafka.
as a tension between a conservative concept ofreconciliation and an image ofa
life become hell, the ever-changing forms of capitalism as the ever same, is
affirmed in this aphorism, as an experience beyond any use. However, both
sides of the dialectic need to be thought in relation to each other, an idea oflife
beyond productivity, and the ide a of the hell ofan exhaustion ofbodily possibi-
lit y as the petrification of subjectivity itself.

Dissolution ofSubjectivity

AIl these figures of exhaustion result in a dissolution of subjectivity.

In .~Negative Dialectics, Adorno states that the aim of his philosophy is 'total
120 Adorno's Concept ofLife
self-relinquishment,.23 However, such a dissolution will not always result in
a metaphysical experience, as an opening to the possibility of non-identity.
The dissolution experienced by the person who is tortured only allows for an
annihilation of experience. This is a pure dissolution of experience, which
cannot open itself to any form of reconciliation. This is a negative experience
of redemption, in that it shares the hallmarks of this experience; the body is
experienced as an excess of subjectivity, time stops, and the ego dissolves. But,
this aiso occurs through an experience of total subjugation that does not
allow for any appropriation of this experience in terms of an opening of the
structures of subjectivity. If a dissolution of subjectivity is to be character-
ized as a metaphysical experience, it cannot result in the complete dissolution of
the subject into 'flesh'. There must be an opening to a new form of subjectivity
in the experience. It is precisely this opening that is lacking in the body under
torture, which is the forced dissolution of subjectivity into a bare life that
is totally dominated.
There are two ways that Adorno writes about a constructed dissolution of the
subject, which can result in a 'total self-relinquishment', which would th en give
a model of an experience of reconciliation. Firstly, there is the hermeneutical
practice of an aesthetic or philosophical experience. This is a hermeneutic that
distances itself from any attempt to construct a completed meaning but
attempts to open either the art object or the philosophical concept up to a pro-
cess ofinterpretation which crea tes gaps in meaning rather than final meanings.
Such gaps, like the gestures in Kafka's novels, or the exhaustive series ofpossi-
bilities of walking or sucking in Beckett's novels, or the constellations of con-
cepts in a contradictory presentation, induce in the recipient an experience of
possibility. Such an experience is not that of an actuality, as it relates to either
the reception of an artwork, or the experience of a gap or a failure in a concep-
tuaI series. However, it does register as experience in the form of a dissolution of
subjectivity, in the emphatic mode of an extreme individuation which finds
itself in its own decay, either through horror, or a transfigured recognition.
This 'extreme form' of individuation is an individu al experience in a process of
degeneration that can reveal the possibility ofwhat has been missed and what
could be changed. 24 At its most extreme, this can be revealed in bodily gesture.
Adorno's account of such experiences as metaphysical distinguishes them
from a simple destruction and annihilation of subjectivity, through the com-
portment induced by the aesthetic experience or the experience of reading
the philosophical text. Metaphysical experience is a form of Erlebnis, but not the
degraded form of reflex responses. Rather, it is an experience that cannot be
clearly outlined conceptually or materially, but interrupts everyday temporal-
ity without completing it. However, such an Erlebnis can only be thought in
relation to a concept of Erfahrung as an ability to open oneselfto the possibility
of a metaphysical experience, an openness that cornes through the ability for
a consummate achievement of determinate negativity. This is as an achieve-
ment oflingering with the object, producing an interpretation through a mim-
esis which allows the object itself to come into view. It is precisely such an
Exhausted Lijè 121
experience that is being destroyed in the increasing reification of capitalist
society. Without such an experience (Erjàhrung) , there can be no metaphysical
experience as an experience ofinterpretation or reading. Benjamin's project of
turning the degraded Erlebnisse of modernity into Erfahrungen is complicated
for Adorno, because he refuses the affirmative concept of redemption required
by such a project. The problem for Adorno is the possibility of the total annihi-
lation of the fallen, as the example of the tortured body as a produced total
self-relinquishment demonstrates.
The second mode in which a dissolution ofsubjectivity becomes a metaphysi-
cal experience does not relate to the construction of constellations of concepts,
or the aesthetic experience ofmodernist artworks. This is the experience encap-
sulated in the exhaustion ofan 'is that all?' or a fruitless waiting. The experience
of the place-name is a model of experience not through frustration, but through
the lack of an expected disappointment. One would expect an experience of dis-
appointment, because the place actually visited does not fulfil the promise of the
place-name. \"'hat is peculiar about Adorno's description of the place-name is
this model ofa lack of disappointment. Why is disappointment not experienced
wh en the hopes invested in the place-name do not actualize themselves on the
longed-for visit? What returns unwilled in this lack of disappointment must be
something unconscious, analogous to the other experiences Adorno describes,
such as déjà vu. What occurs in the experience of déjà vu is not simply the experi-
ence of an uncanniness caused by a feeling that one has been in the place before.
On the contrary, there is a gap in the expectation of what is presented to an
initial expectation, a gap that presents itselfin the form of'that's not an there
is'. Such an experience relates to the unconscious, to a return of something
unbidden as a natural moment within the unconscious. But this is not a return
to a plenitude, but to a feeling of being at home, at complete ease with that
which is fundamentally differentia ted. l t is the return of such a repressed feeling
that opens the subject to the realization that what exists is not the total sum of
possibility. This is the Proustian model of experience, not the mémoire involuntaire
so frequently quoted. Involuntary memory promises a traditional reconcilia-
tion with a fulfilled notion of sensuous objectivity that completes and traverses
time in a unit y of the past with the present, in the emphatic, yet unwilled sensa-
tion that brings back the initial taste or smell. The experience of the place-name
as Adorno outlines it is ajolt to an expected order of experience given by the fact
that disappointment does not follow.
The key to thinking these two concepts together lies in Adorno's use of mim-
esis. Mimesis is described in Dialectic of Enlightenment as both an opening to the
other and an attempt to control otherness through imitation. The mode of dom-
ination of an originary mime tic comportment lies in its attempt to model itself
on the objectivity, as a means of displacing its power. Lying within such a con-
cept ofmimesis is the possibility ofa form ofa rational control ofnature, which
does not proceed through identification. However, such a mime tic comport-
ment is entrapped as it proceeds through fear. It functions only as a failed
stage of an attempt to control the natural. What is lost in the movement from
122 Adorno's Concept ofLife
mimesis to identity thinking is this mode of rationality co-existing with non-
identity. What Adorno attempts to recuperate as metaphysical experience is a
concept of the mime tic that sublima tes the fearful moment contained within
mimesis. This is sublimated through experiences such as the aesthetic shudder,
or the fearful identification of the listener in the café with the ruined, back-
ground music. However, because such a fear do es not take place in a situation
where humans are controlled by nature, but have dominated nature to the
point of its invisibility; the fearful moment immediately sublimates itself into
the awareness of the loss of the liberating or reconciled moment of mimetic
rationality. Mimesis in this sense is not the description of a faculty that has
simply migrated into aesthetic comportment, but a certain mode of relation
that is repressed and returns in the experience of a self-relinquishment. This
self-relinquishment is the main marker of a mimetic comportment.
The difficulty is how to differentiate these experiences of a disintegration of
subjectivity from the general disintegration of the subject produced in society at
large, and even more, the model ofa radical disintegration of the subject in the
process of torture or the reduction of a life worse th an death in the camps. How
can a subject bear witness to its own ruin?
The self-relinquishment of subjectivity that is produced in the aesthetic
experiences ofmodernist artworks that Adorno describes induces an imitation
that reveals the petrification of subjectivity itself in a mimesis with capitalist
forms of temporality, particularly the conjunction of a transient historical
mode of production as an eternal feature of human existence. What is feared
is no longer the domination of nature, but the extirpation of aIl that is natural
within the subject, by an eternalized present. The breakthrough moment of
an aesthetic experience opens the subject to an image of time itself as standing
still in terms of the form of life reproduced within capitalist society. Adorno
writes that:

The life process itself ossifies in the expression of the ever-same ... The
absurdity explodes: that something happens where the phenomenon says
that nothing more could happen; its attitude becomes terrifying. In this
experience of terror, the terror of the system forcibly coalesces into appear-
ance; the more the system expands, the more it hardens into what it has
already been. What Benjamin called 'dialectics at a standstill' is surely less a
Platonizing residue than the attempt to raise such paradoxes to philosophical
consciousness. 25

The terror produced by the dialectical image is a fear of the system itself, and is
therefore, the production of a cri tic al subjectivity in the form of a recognition of
its own domination. Mimesis serves to displace narcissism. Furthermore, the
inducement of a mimesis opens the subject to the reconciling modes within
mimetic rationality, the possibility of a form of rationality which could exist
with otherness in a relation other th an domination or fear. Such a possibility
can only be induced by certain experiences, such as aesthetic experiences, and
Exhausted Life 123
the metaphysical experiences outlined above. The suspension oftime in a nega-
tive redemptive moment, either of terror, or of the dislocation of expectation
caused by metaphysical experience, produces the return of a reconciliatory
moment which is not concerned with unit y but with a way of being at home
with that which is differentiated from the subject.
This account of the relation between a negative moment of redemption,
which is a mime sis of deadened life, and the glimpse ofa possibility ofreconcilia-
tion, is premised upon two moments. First, there is the recognition of life as
deadened, a recognition that in itself only arises as the culmination of a heigh-
tened pro cess of conceptually mediated self-reflection. This produces the second
moment, which is experienced as a loss, as a realization of a different mode of
relating to objectivity within the decay of experience itself. There is no outline
of a reconciled state here, but only the trace of a different way ofbeing outlined
in the horror of a mimesis of deadened life.

What is the relevance of Adorno's reflections upon the concept of life for con-
temporary philosophy? The concept oflife, and indeed, the concept ofvitalism
have become central to philosophical concerns in recent years, primarily
through an expanding interest in Deleuze's philosophy. Of particular interest
has been Deleuze's attempt to construct a different philosophical tradition
within Continental philosophy, which emphasizes figures such as Spinoza,
Bergson and Nietzsche, who do not fit easily into the post-Hegelian Marxist tra-
dition or the phenomenological movement in philosophy, which have predomi-
nated as the twin roots of the Continental approach, however much such a
designation is fraught with misunderstanding and illegitimacy.l The aim of
the construction of such a tradition is self-consciously destructive; it aims to
pose a decisive challenge to any philosophy that conceives its task as the com-
prehension ofsociety through the contradictions intrinsic to social productivity.
Dialectical thought is conceived as a thought that is restricted and contained
within the antinomies of modern society, and which leads to a dead end.
Equally, the attempt of a phenomenology to have access to lived experiences is
still too reliant on the subject of experience to try and attain a true concept of the
living, which can only be attained in sorne sense beyond the subject and beyond
the human. However, this beyond cannot be conceived as an always non-iden-
tical trace or absence within presence as deconstructive philosophies do, but
only in terms of a radicalized and immanent ontology of life itself. Such an
ontology do es not posit a pure first, but, rather an ontology of the originary,
differentiating, creative activity oflife itself.
There are three levels at which this philosophical approach stakes its daim
for a productive vitalism. First, there is the emphasis in Deleuze's philosophy
upon a Bergsonian conception ofpossibility as the virtual, which relates to an
immanent creative becoming that can never be actualized in a particular
person or even creature. This becomes a philosophy of inorganic life, a life
beyond any ofits superficial actualizations. However, this is not an idealism as
it connects with new forms of thinking about material reality within science,
and particularly within modern biology. The concept ofinorganic life or of'a
Life', beyond any of its incarnations, is productively thought in relation to
modern biology, and new non-reductionist daims about the growth and devel-
opment of organisms, where life is seen as an unfolding process of relational flow
between organism and environment that cannot be identified in its effective
Conclusion 125
incarnation, but always exists between and beyond any fixed determination.
As Deleuze states, Othis indefinite life does not itselfhave moments ... but onlv
between-times, between-moments'. 2 '

In order to approach this creative becoming that is not individuated or iden-

tifiable, there is a necessity for a dissolution of all forms of representational
thought and subject formation. It is only in a dissolution of subjectivity, in an
experience which has no bearer or designation, that the creative life ofbecom-
ing can be connected with. This, the n, is the second important theme of the new
productive vitalism. Only in an experience of desubjectification can an experi-
ence oflife occur.
Finally, this connection with a process oflife is not a becoming of the human,
it cannot be thought or experienced purely as the realization of a human
essence, but must point towards ways beyond the human condition, even
towards a thinking that is inhuman. In this sense, this beyond is not transcen-
dent in terms of tradition al metaphysics, as it emphasizes everything that is
experienced as lower or as debased within a humanist tradition that separates
human life from animal life. Deleuze and Guattari write in this sense of a
'becoming-animal', but this is not meant in terms of a literaI transformation
into an animal state, but an installation within a process of becoming itself
that is a complete desubjectification. As they write: 'Becoming produces noth-
ing other than itself ... What is real is the block ofbecoming itself, the block of
becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through that which becomes passes
... This is the point to clarify: that a becoming lacks a subject distinct from
itself ... ,3 As Peter Hallward has pointed out in a penetrating recent study of
Deleuze's philosophy, this dissolution of subjectivity attempts to think a com-
plete dissolution without however positing this as an annihilation. This dissolu-
tion results then in an installation within the becoming of a life itself, which is
immanent to human existence, but beyond any designation of a 'being human',
or any identification as a form oflife itself. 4

Adorno Contra Vitali sm

How can we situate Adorno's concept oflife in relation to these three moments
or levels of the account of a productive vitalism that Deleuze offers? We have
seen Adorno's critique of the Bergsonian concept ofpossibility as a virtual crea-
tive becoming, which relies on the notion that the idea of a virtual becoming
does not allow any fixed or determinable points within the vital flux in order
for a reflective thought to adopt a subject position. The emphasis in Adorno's
philosophy is on an idea ofpossibility that is derived from an Aristotelian con-
cept ofpotentiality: that, in sorne way, possibility must be linked to tendencies
and undeveloped patterns within the past that have been suppressed. This does
not mean that somehow the possible is pre-existent, fully formed and waiting to
appear, but that the formation of possibility into an actuality can only occur
126 Adorno;'s Concept ofLife
through a negotiation between an act or series of present events bringing into
play what were previously suppressed possibilities. Where Adorno differs radi-
cally from Deleuze and the Bergsonian inheritance ofDeleuze's philosophy is in
wanting to retain a concept of actuality, a concept that is completely dispensed
with in the thinking of the virtual. In the virtual, there is no actuality, there is
only a connection with the real, which is the uninterrupted continuaI creativity
oflife itself. Life is never actualized but only occurs and can be intuited through
a process of subjective dissolution. Such a subjective dissolution installs the indi-
vidual within a process of becoming that always differs and always creates.
There are no pre-existing possibilities, possibilities are always created in an
event of an installation within a process of ever-differing life. For Adorno, such
a philosophy of life destroys any prospect of a reflective thinking, because it
destroys any subject position in which to think. Furthermore, the destruction
of the concepts of possibility and actuality in the concept of the virtual means
that we are completely dominated by a life which can never be identified or
known, but only intuited in the form of a submersion of the individual in an
indeterminate process beyond themselves. Peter Hallward notes that 'there is
no place for him (Deleuze) to account for cumulative transformation or novelty
in terms of actual materials and tendencies', precisely because there is no con-
cept of actuality within Deleuze's philosophy. 5
The attempt at an immanent leap beyond any mediation to an identification
with an event of creative becoming cannot therefore reflect upon its own rela-
tion with historical and political modes of production and forms of life. This
becomes an acute poli tic al issue when the poli tic al is being transformed in
the way it relates to life itself, in that the vital processes oflife have become the
object and site of political contestation and transformation. Michel Foucault
has written about this form of biopower as a new focus within politicallife in
terms of the two poles of an interlinking development in a focus of power over
life itself. These poles consist in a form ofpower centred on the affects, potenti-
alities and forces of the human body itself, and a focus on the processes oflife as a
;species-body', a form ofpower which focuses on the production and reproduc-
tion offorms oflife at a population leve1. 6 Biopower works at both an individual
and a population level to produce and reproduce forms oflife within capitalism,
and thus infiltra tes to the very affective basis oflife. The life to be worked upon
and reproduced becomes an indeterminate life that can nowhere be identified
or grasped. The mechanisms ofbiopower work to produce and reproduce forms
oflife that are controlled at their deepest level.
Giorgio Agamben has written about this new site of biopolitics as a form of
;bare life'. The concept of bare life plays a central role in Agamben's book
Homo Sacer - Sovereign Power and Bare Life. The book begins by drawing attention
to the Ancient Greek distinction between bios and zoe, both words designating
life. Bios refers to the form or mode oflife particular to an individual or a group,
which is specifically concerned with modes of living rather th an the biological
fact oflife itself, and is therefore subject to ethical and political ascriptions. Zoe
refers to the simple fact ofliving, the biological fact of existence. 7
Conclusion 127
Agamben's text traces the mode in which life gets prepared for political
ascriptions, particularly in the movement from Greek to Roman thought. The
key concept is 'bare life', which he equates with a form of existence legitimated
by Roman law, the homo sacer the human that can be killed but not sacrificed.
The particular figure of the homo sacer wi thin Roman law is a paradoxical figure,
in that he is both within and beyond the law. He is within the law in that there is
a claim that he can be legally executed but beyond the law in the sense that
there can be no sacrificial sanction given to such an execution. The decision of
sovereignty is one that is an exclusive inclusion; it includes bare life within the
political sphere whilst at the same time excluding it. This is what Agamben
refers to as the 'state of exception'. 8 The state of exception absorbs bare life
through pronouncing it as an excess, as something that escapes its juridical
rule. This is the process of abandonment or of ban. Bare life can only be con-
ceived in the political sphere through its excision from that sphere. The sover-
eign decision includes through a pro cess of exclusion. This is a decision because
there is no legal or formaI grounding for the exercise of sovereignty. It is a
formaI, but empty decision, which founds an empty space. Thus, the symmetry
within Agamben's writing between the sovereign power and bare life. Both
relate to each other in the form of an inclusive exclusion. But what is being
excluded and included here?
Agamben gives us a political ontology, which enables us to understand a cer-
tain zone of indistinction caused through the sovereign decision in the 'state of
exception', a political space that makes it difficult to distinguish between life
and death. Through an analysis of a paradoxical figure within Roman law, he
aims to uncover the central and predominant relation of sovereign power and
bare life within the modern political space. This political space is increasingly
determined by an extension and radicalization ofsovereign power within differ-
ent realms of society, so Agamben gives concrete ex amples of this - with such
medical conditions as the 'neomort' who hangs between definitions of brain-
stem death and 'natural' death and goes on to map the space of the modern
as one where this indistinction and state of exception has become the rule, with
the concentration camp as the paradigmatic space of modernity. There is no
such thing as bare life in itself, but a form oflife is produced as bare life, which
is completely open to the exercise of power.
For Agamben, the core sociopolitical concern of modernity has been the
value or non-value of life. He identifies the beginnings of this biopower in
the early Nazi texts around the euthanasia of those with learning difficulties
and mental illness, of the judgement of a life not worthy ofbeing lived. With the
increasing biotechnical capacities to transform genetically and muta te human
biology, power has bec orne more and more focused upon the life of the human as
a site for the play ofits resources:

Today a law that seeks to transform itself wholly into life is more and more
confronted with a life that has been deadened and mortified into juridical
rule. Every attempt to rethink the political space of the West must begin
128 Adorno's Concept ofLife
with the clear awareness that we no longer know anything of the classical dis-
tinction between zoe and bios. 9

What Adorno diagnosed in the mid- to late 1940s has been even further
entrenched, according to Agamben, through the biopolitical focus of modern
political power on the production and reproduction of forms of life, within
which there can no longer be any distinction between a biological organism
and a life that has its experience in relation to a separateness from a need for
self-preservation: 'The "body" is always already a biopolitical body and bare
life, and nothing in it or the economy of its pleasure seems to allow us to find
solid ground on which to oppose the demands of sovereign power.' 10 This ana-
lysis further deepens the question ofhow there can be any position from which to
resist su ch forms of power which work at the core level of the constitution and
production of a totally indeterminate form oflife, which is purely open for the
play of power at an affective level. The problem for a vitalist philosophy su ch as
that of Deleuze, is that the route beyond su ch astate becomes a redemptive
appropriation ofjust such an indeterminate concept oflife itself. There is a sym-
metry between the concept of a life beyond the human, which is to overcome
and connect with the creative reality of becoming, and the socially produced
forms oflife, which in themselves are subject to an indeterminate flux of produc-
tion and reproduction.
In his essay, 'Immanence: A Life ... ', Deleuze attempts to think the category
of a life distinct from any subject position or relation to an object, and he does
this through an initial characterization of a life that appears before the moment

Between his life and his death, there is a moment that is only that of a life
playing with death ... The life of the individual gives way to an impersonal
and yet singular life that releases a pure event freed from the accidents of
internaI and external life, that is, from the subjectivity and objectivity of
what happens: a 'Homo tantum', with whom everyone empathizes and who
attains a sort ofbeatitude. Il

Deleuze takes this moment from a fictional episode in Dickens' Our Mutual
Friend, but he does not want to limit the apprehension of a life, as something
that only appears at the instant of death. 12 Deleuze argues that this life is every-
where, but cannot be actualized in a moment, but is a pure immanence. 13 How-
ever, there is a formaI similarity between such a concept oflife, and the bare life
produced and constituted by modern forms of biopower, but there are no
resources within contemporary vitalism to think, both adequately and criti-
cally, the relation between the life to be assumed beyond the human, and the
bare life produced in biopolitics. This can be se en in writings that attempt to
use Deleuze's philosophy as an inspiration for an attempt to think a route
beyond biopolitical domination. For example, Hardt and Negri identify certain
Conclusion 129
non-reductive developments in science as fl.lrthering a project of liberation.
In Hardt and Negri's book, Multitude, there is an equation of this new virtual
becoming of the monstrous as an aleatory 'sudden emergence of the new', with
developments in scientific theory which privilege systems and organisms as dif-
fuse, multiple, and without easy lin es of causation. The identification of the
virtual with scientific and productive developments is lacking any social or his-
torical mediation. Thus, there is a constant invocation of the sciences of mole-
cular biology and neuroscience as supporting arguments of immanent
multiplicity and complexity without any appreciation ofboth the multiplicity
of different theories within such sciences, and their role and status as sciences
with a certain daim on power and knowledge. This results in an invocation
of scientific models that is highly problematic. The idea that neuroscience
'tells us' something about brain processes ignores the complex relation ofinfor-
mation and theory, and the contestations of power that are at work in neuro-
scientific enquiry, alongside the interplay and co-existence of reductive and
non-reductive expIa nations within neuroscientific research. 14
Keith Ansell-Pearson has written about this problem in terms of the staging
of a debate between Adorno's emphasis upon mediation and Deleuze's attempt
to move beyond any dialectical thinking to an emphatic thinking of life.
He writes that the 'self-contained concept of the infinite is in danger ofmerely
imitating the central antinomy of bourgeois society' .15 This formaI similarity
between an indeterminate life produced within modern capitalism and the
indeterminate inorganic life ofbecoming beyond capitalism renders any think-
ing of a political act of resistance that can locate a space for itself impossible,
other than through a complete dissolution ofits own subjectivity, which would
render it ev en more susceptible to the very forces it is attempting to resist.
However, this is not to daim that Adorno's dialectical retention of a subject
in the moment ofits dissolution can necessarily enable a more adequate model
for thinking a relation between metaphysics, poli tics and life. As Ansell-Pearson
points out, the problem for a thinking such as Adorno's that wishes to restrict
itself to a negative comprehension of the fundamental contradictions within
subject-object relations is that it binds itself as thought within a fundamentally
restrictive mode ofwhat it means to think. 16 Furthermore, the extreme thesis of
a total reification that Adorno uses as a means of provocation to thought takes
on a less extreme hue when the processes of domination come to infiltrate the
very affective sources oflife that Adorno wants to theorize as remnants beyond
conceptual thought. Of course, Adorno's philosophy is acutely aware of this
process, but it rend ers increasingly problematic the attempt at a comprehension
of societal reification, a comprehension that becomes a limit experience even in
Adorno's writing. How, then, is the speculative materialism that Adorno out-
lines any different from the vitalism we have examined, in terms of the resources
it offers for moving beyond reified life'? Given its limitations, in terms of a think-
ing of radical novelty, is there any reason we should think through Adorno's
philosophy in relation to the concept oflife?
130 Adorno' s Concept of Life

Speculative Materialism

The account l have given in this book of Adorno's philosophical position in rela-
tion to the concept oflife can be termed a speculative materialism. To recap my
earlier arguments, Adorno's materialism is indebted to Marx's conception of a
social and historical materialism which is concerned with an understanding of
objects as products ofprocesses of social productive and forms oflife within par-
ticular historical modes of production. However, his materialism also invokes a
pre-Marxist conception ofa mode ofbeing with objectivity in terms ofa passive.
sensible reception of objectivity which does not rely on an objectifying or repre-
sentational process of thought. This second mode of materialism is thought
through concepts such as mimesis, affinity, suffering and the somatic impulse.
Adorno is adamant that it is not pre-reflective; it is always mediated by con-
ceptual thought and its incarnation in a social and historical milieu. However,
at the same time, he wants to daim it as a residue of something always non-
identical with thought which can return in a speculative experience, in an
involuntary way. In this sense, it is something radically other to conceptual.
dassificatory thinking that returns within a negative experience ofreified life,
as a moment beyond the grasp of conceptuality, a possibility of a life beyond the
dominance ofidentity thinking.
There is a tension, then, within this second materialism ofhow to conceive of
a relation between conceptual thinking, and the traces ofthat which escapes the
grasp of conceptual thought but is sedimented within it in a somatic form.
l have traced this tension in two interpretations of this moment of immediacy
within an otherwise rigorously negative dialectical thought. In chapter 5, l
gave an account of suffering as exemplifying an experience which returns us to
a pre-reflective affective basis for thought, which is nevertheless never a pre-
sence or a representational identity; it is not the Hegelian identity of identity
and non-identity, sim ply because there is no divide in such an experience
between the person experiencing and that which is being experienced. What
these experiences can give a glimpse of is precisely an affective intimation of
something beyond identity thinking. In the final chapter, l traced Adorno's
account of similar experiences as metaphysical experiences, which can give us
a glimpse of the possibility of a different way of being alongside objectivity.
What marks out these experiences is their uncertainty, their lack of any realized
actuali ty, and their lack of any intrinsic ethical ground or content.
As a contrast with this account, l criticized J. M. Bernstein's interpretation
of this somatic moment within thought as a material axis of the concept
or a relation of material inference which can normatively ground conceptual
thinking from within. My two main criticisms of this account are that it pro-
vides an account of Adorno in terms of an ethical naturalism, which ultimately
relies on an ahistorical ground of affective normativity that has no basis other
than in an invocation of our animal embodiment. Second, the reliance on using
McDowell and Brandom's philosophy means that the return of a somatic
moment is thought of as a re-activation of a conceptual moment, suppressed~
Conclusion 131

but constantly immanent within thought. This does not leave any ground for
thinking a speculative philosophy in the sense of the possibility of something
new arising other than in the re-activation, or the re-awakening of some-
thing always already existing. Furthermore, the use of a concept of material
inference does not account for the involuntary, non-identical nature of the
somatic moment, or addendum within thought. The non-identical as embodied
experience is not non-identical enough to identity thinking, in the concept of a
material inference.
However, if we interpret the metaphysical experience as an experience of a
different possibility ofbeing alongside objectivity, a possibility that only arises
through a negative redemptive mimesis of deadened life, how do we account
for the possibility that arises in the metaphysical experience? In my account of
metaphysical experience, l emphasized the interplay between a negative re-
demptive moment often sparked by a bodily experience of a non-identity and
lack of fulfilment, and an opening of this experience on to the possibility of a
reconciled relation with objectivity, which would consist of a non-dominating,
non-identifying relation between subject and object. This negative redemptive
moment can give us a reverse image ofreconciled life, because it precisely con-
sists in a form of experience within which there is no divide between the person
experiencing and that which is being experienced. The place-name, the experi-
ence offruitless waiting, the involuntary gesture, the déjà vu, happiness are aU
experiences marked by such a lack of divide. However, within these experi-
ences, this immediacy is also represented in terms of a distance, a distance
marked by a lack of fulfilment, a lack of coincidence and the impossibility of
coincidence no matter how close, an identity yearned for but not achieved and
impossible to achieve, an exhaustion that leaves nothing left to exhaust. The
structure ofsuch experiences then contains a reversaI between a sense ofhappi-
ness at being so close to something, encapsulated in the fact that there is no
separation between subject and object, no divide within the metaphysical
experience, and an experience of suffering registered within the lack of ability
to reach the longed-for fulfilment or identity. This is what Adorno terrns 'to be
entranced in one place without squinting at the univers al' .1 Î
How is this metaphysical experience a possibility oflife, and what is this pos-
sibility that is opened within a metaphysical experience? At a first look, it
appears completely ideal, a moment of transcendence which is invoked and
then consumed. This would be a pure experience of empty possibility itself, an
experience of existing in a space between identity and non-identity as the very
space of the possibility of possibility. The problem is that this aU sounds
very Heideggerean, and very ideal. There is no sense in which this is an experi-
ence of the possibility oflife in material terms, rather than an experience of the
possibility ofpossibility. l think the key to thinking this experience ofpossibility
in both its material and ideal moments is in thinking through the moments of
both suffering and pleasure within the metaphysical experience. l t is the
moment of suffering due to the bodily experience of the lack of fuI filment and
the moment of pleasure at the experience of a co-incidence that is never quite
132 Adorno's Concept ofLife
co-incidence, that recalls the subject to aIl that it has lost through the necessary
pro cess of the separation from nature, and drives the subject on to the possibility
that things could be different. That these experiences often occur through a
horror, or a mimesis of deadened life, means that there is no guarantee that
there will necessarily be a pleasurable moment within such a metaphysical
experience. The experience ofbeing alienated from your own body, from your
own place in the world, the experience that there is no life in a daily existence,
will not necessarily contain a pleasurable aspect, as the aesthetic experience
that Adorno usuaIly invokes. This means that the glimpse of a reconciled life,
as a way ofbeing with objectivity that is non-dominating, can never be guaran-
teed in such experiences. The response to the moment of a suffering may weIl be
the projection ofnon-identity on to others and the violence inflicted upon them.
Indeed, this is a central theme of the chapter on 'Elements of Anti-Semitism', in
Dialectic of Enlightenment. 18 The possibilities that arise within the metaphysical
experience are twofold. First, the experience of the suffering sedimented
within a relation to objectivity that is abstracting and identifying. This is an
immanent marker of aflèctivity that never becomes apparent within reified
society because of the narcissistic processes which cause the subject to identify
with the processes that cause its own reification, and the actual reification of
existing systems of capitalist exchange which mask the social processes and the
suffering underpinning them. This possibility is the possibility of an actuality in
a strong sense. l t is not the realization of a pre-existing possible but the realiza-
tion in somatic form of an actuality that is hidden and repressed.
The second possibility that arises is the possibility that there could be a form
of closeness with objects that would not be an identificatory abstraction or dom-
ination. There could be a form of closeness with objects that lies in what Adorno
terms a 'distanced nearness', which is encapsulated in these experiences without
divide, but without representation or objectifying thought. There is no distance
to be overcome and no identity to be achieved. This possibility is a possibility
that is created in the experience itself, not the re-awakening of a pre-rational
mimetic comportment towards the object, or the re-activation of an authentic
embodiment, but a speculative experience of something new. This does not
mean that this creation is absolute; it has a relation to capacities that are affec-
tive and rational, and it is also fundamentally uncertain, but it cannot be
thought purely in terms of the awakening ofprior potentialities.
However, nor is the dissolution ofa subject an opening into a creative becom-
ing oflife itself. lndeed, in this second possibility, the pleasure appears to lie in a
transcendence of materiality rather than a fulfilled relation with objectivity.
This transcendence of materiality rests in a relation to ideal concepts such as
the place-name or empty, contentless experiences such as a fruitless waiting.
This is a problem for a philosophy which aims to orient itself towards objectiv-
ity. If the only account of the possibility oflife lies in a dual account ofa negative
affective residue of a painful relationality, alongside an ideal transcendence of
such astate, where does the object appear? Do we need to supplement a specu-
lative materialism with a materialist metaphysics?19
Conclusion 133

Materialist Metaphysics

A materialist metaphysics will be concerned with an understanding of matter

beyond aIl relationality, and an understanding of the object as it is in itself.
We have explored how Adorno's concept ofmediation argues that subject and
object are always mediated through their relationality, but that there is an
asymmetry between object and subject; that in sorne sense an object can be con-
ceived independently of a subject whereas a subject can only be conceived
through its relation to its own objectivity as an embodied subject, and to its rela-
tions with external objects.
For Adorno, the conception ofan object in itselfrelates to a twist in the orien-
ta tion of an epis temology towards obj ecti vi ty and a way from the construction of
objects by a formaI, but contentless subjectivity. Does this amount to a meta-
physics of objectivity, to the daim that the metaphysical experience of the pos-
sibility oflife entails an experience of the life of things? In this sense, Adorno's
philosophy would entail a dissolution of the subject into the process oflife, a dis-
solution that would have sorne resemblance to the process that we analysed in
relation to Deleuze earlier. The difference with Adorno's conception of objec-
tivity is in its reliance on a dassical notion of substance, not in the sense that we
can daim an intuition ofwhat the substance of an object is in itself, but in the
emphasis on a substantiality of objects beyond aIl relationality. Adorno states
that 'no concept of the living can be thought unless it indudes a moment of the
identically persisting'. 20 This is equally true of the postulation of a process oflife
as flux beyond any objective or individu al incarnation. A process of flux cannot
be conceived, for Adorno, without a moment of a stable individual substance.
In the posthumously published lectures on metaphysics, Adorno writes of an
incomplete articulation within Aristotle's theory of the relation between
matter, substance and form:

It should not be overlooked here that in Aristotle - who, like aIl truly signifi-
cant philosophers, was more concerned with expressing phenomena than
with unifying them seamlessly and without contradictions - the question of
the relation between what might be called the immanent tendency of matter,
and the opposed principle of the resistance of matter to form, was never com-
pletely articulated and elaborated. 21

This quotation could be applied to Adorno's philosophy itself, in that there is a

constant oscillation between a concept of individu al objects in themselves as
resistant to any articulation in form, and a reference to processes within objects,
and tendencies within matter. This is a tension that cannot be resolved for
Adorno. There cannot be any metaphysics of matter itself, whether it hyposta-
sizes the moment of flux within a life beyond matter, or individu al substances
themselves, because there can be no wishing away of the structures of our con-
ceptual access to objects. However, the object, always refers to something non-
conceptual, to something beyond its relationality. A concept of substance here
134 Adorno's Concept ofLife
would refer to the fact that an object always exists beyond its relations. Graham
Harman has revived a concept of objectivity as substance in these terms, which
he expresses in a form which resonates with Adorno's emphasis upon the limita-
tions of epistemology, and the ultimate non-identity of objects with anything
that can be designated of them. Harman writes of a definition of an object as a
substance in the following terms: 'An object is a "substance", not because it is
ultimate and indestructible, but simply because it can never be identified with
any (.or even aU) ofits relations with other entities.,22 Such a position do es not
amount, in Adorno, to a fully blown metaphysical materialism. Adorno's phi-
losophy remains tied to a thinking which cannot leap over its conceptual tools
into something beyond experience, however much this experience is socially
constituted. This is Adorno's essential Kantianism. However, there is an orien-
tation towards objectivity, in these terrns of an oscillation between life as process
and objects as substance, that is insufficiently elaborated. Adorno's philosophy
remains within the bounds ofa speculative materialism, which enables it to pre-
serve a critical relation to a dissolution ofsubjectivity, but does not enable a full
theorization of the non-conceptual. This does not mean that Adorno's thinking
of the preponderance of objectivity is nonsensical, because it requires him to
make sense of something that precisely cannot be made sense of, the non-con-
ceptual. 23 The whole demand for a making sense is part of the problem with an
attempt to think the non-conceptual, which is the central demand of a philoso-
phy to express the inexpressible. It is not about a making sense, but an orienta-
tion towards the problems and insufficiencies of conceptual thought. This does
not mean that there can be no thinking of the object as non-conceptual. but
there can be no leap into the realm of a metaphysics of matter.

Adorno and the Concept ofLife

There is no foundational concept oflife that can be resuscitated intact and serve
as a route beyond reified life. However, there are traces oflife which have sur-
vived, not intact, but at the margins ofidentity thinking. Concepts such as mim-
esis, aura and the soma tic remainder function as gestures towards embodied
experience. 1 have highlighted examples where this occurs in concepts such as
the shudder, the return ofmimesis in a negative redemptive experience, and the
model of an unfulfilled experience that can serve as a means of figuring a chan-
ged concept of reconcilia tion. Such a model does not involve a recovery of an
originary embodied rationality, but traces which can be remodelled within a
future way of living. Adorno's concept oflife is related to the possibility that
life could be different, rather than a rescue ofthat which is lost.
However, a different way ofliving that can proceed through the dissolution
of experience itself can only open itself to possibility, and not annihilation,
if there is an opening to life at the end of a dialectical process of dissolution.
This demands an account of the destruction of experience which is not total.
Conclusion 135
Adorno's attempt at a presentation ofphilosophy which creates gaps in concep-
tuaI series, and a disintegration of experience that reveals both the reification of
life and the possibility that it could be changed, relies on the survival of a certain
kind of experience.
Such an experience involves the ability to linger with objectivity and model
the subject on an object in a way that could allow a relation between subjectiv-
ity and objectivity that does not dominate through identification. Such an
experience can only be configured negatively, in terms of a mimesis of a dea-
dened form of life, which l outlined through figures of exhaustion in the final
chapter. However, there are also experiences which open the subject to the pos-
sibility ofreconciliation, through an awareness that life does not consist offulfil-
ment through identification, but through an 'opening' to objectivity.
There are therefore three forms of experience that Adorno oudines, each of
which relates differently to the concept of life. First, there is an experience
ofinterpretation, either aesthetic or philosophical, which consists in the ability
to allow the object to be interpreted without a final closure. This is the experi-
ence that Adorno describes in his account of the form of the essay, or the
experience of reading Hegel's philosophy, or elsewhere as a form of mime tic
comportment that relates to the ability of the individual to free herself from a
rigid subjectivity, in order to be open to the object. Such an experience is a pre-
requisite for a dissolution of subjectivity that is not going to result in an annihi-
lation of experience. l have argued that Adorno needs a better account ofhow
this concept of experience survives the destruction of experience~ and is trans-
formed historically as embodied experience. The body is a naturalistic ground
of experience that nevertheless must be historicized, but unless such an experi-
ence can be accounted for in terms ofits transformation over time, it reverts to
an ahistorical construction of a form of rationality largely unaffected by the his-
torical destruction of experience itself.
The second form of experience is the experience ofbreakthrough, the experi-
ence that l have termed a negative redemptive moment. Such an experience
only occurs through a dissolution of experience itself that opens the subject to
the mimesis oflife as deadened. This is the relation of experience and life in the
negative redemptive moment.
This moment ofbreakthrough is negative, because it does not redeem what is
lost or fulfil time, but enables an experience of reification, life as reified. How-
ever, in this negative experience there is a reverse image ofreconciliation, as a
vanishing point of this negative redemptive moment, an ability to live harmo-
niously with that which is differentiated from subjectivity. Reconciliation
functions here as the vanishing point of a negative redemptive breakthrough
since the predominant experience of the dissolution of subjectivity is one of
horror at the deadened existence, and protest at the relinquishing of the rigidity
of the ego. But this opening is itself a process ofletting go of subjectivity that can
weakly image a fuller conception of an experience of reconciliation, which
can only come about through this individu al experience, against the rigid~ dom-
inating subjective ego.
136 Adorno's Concept ofLife
The third form of experience is the trace or figure of a reconciled experience
that opens the subject to a different experience oflife, as one without domina-
tion. In its strongest form, in metaphysical experiences, this experience is the
experience of possibility itself However, this experience of a pure possibility
immediately dissolves in the moment of the metaphysical experience and
returns the subject to a reified life. But it remains as an exigency or demand
within thought that things could be otherwise. In this sense Adorno's metaphy-
sics caUs for a politics. Although the concept of the political is left undetermined
by Adorno, his account of a changed concept of metaphysical experience
demands a poli tic al response, even if it disavows any content given to such a
response. Perhaps the greatest weakness of Adorno's thinking on the concept of
life is the lack ofany theorization between the philosophy ofself-relinquishment
that he oudines as metaphysical experience and the political tasks of resistance
to the realities of reified life. The central problem of the concept of life in
contemporary philosophy is in relation to a linking of a metaphysics of life,
envisaged in the dissolution of subjectivity and a poli tics of becoming beyond
the human. Adorno's account of metaphysical experience refuses a linkage
with politics, for the very good reasons of the intrinsic problem of any meta-
physical politics: that it precisely cannot mediate between a metaphysics, how-
ever material, and political actualities and tendencÎes. The relation between
this third form of experience and life is the futural aspect of a demand that life
be different. The experience of possibility opens the subject to the realization
that the lack of fulfilment constitutive of the metaphysical experience can
serve as a model of an experience which would not lie with the complete unit y
of subject and object in a fulfilled mode.
However, to register such an experience in a critical way still depends on a
subject. Without subjective experience, as embodied experience that proceeds
through self.. reflection to an awareness of its inherent contradictions, there can
be no possibility for an experience that would point to a life beyond the 'life that
does not live'. Such a subjective experience cannot be thought alone as that of a
formaI subject that denies its own relation to materiality, but, furthermore,
neither can it be a complete dissolution of subjective experience, without a
moment of a recovery of the subject. Such a moment of recovery can only be
theorized in terms of a bodily experience itself, a basis, a locus, to which
hum an experience always returns, but in a reified form. This is not a return to
an originary potentiality, but a body exhausted with aIl that it embodies,
which, nevertheless, in the painful realization ofits own fragility as subjectivity,
is opened towards the possibility of a different form oflife.
The strengths of Adorno's thinking on the concept oflife involve an emphasis
upon a retention of a reflective subjectivity even in the moment of dissolution
which opens the subject up to the possibility of difference. There is a refusaI of
a redemptive philosophy of dissolution which identifies, in the dissolution oflifè,
a redemption in a merging with indeterminate processes of life beyond the
human. Thus, Adorno's thinking on the concept of life is resolutely a thinking
through a human life which, nevertheless, will not appropriate the concept of
Conclusion 137

the living to itself alone, but reflect upon its dependence upon a relation with
nature. This results in an orientation towards objectivity as the non-identical,
and a refusaI of the daims of a human subjectivity to identify or subsume the
non-conceptual within conceptual identifications. Ifthis has any relation to vit-
alism, it is the relation that Monica Greco has outlined in a paper on Canguil-
hem, which sees the need to 'preserve vitalism as a meaningful and ethical
demand rather than a positive philosophy oflife' .24 The thinking of the priority
of the object and the ineliminable materiality of thought serves as a reminder
and a block on aU attempts to hypostasize an empty subjectivity as progenitor
of all reali ty.
Judith Butler has recently written of Adorno's philosophy in tenns of a
'becoming human,.25 The 'becoming human' that Butler traces in Adorno's
work is both a response to the inhumanity of suffering, and a refusaI to make
any substantive daim or demand based on that suffering. It is not that the
experience of suffering life can reveal immanent and appropriate ethical
norms in which to live. The account I have given of the category of suffering
as indeterminate, non-identical, yet a material marker within identity think-
ing captures this process of a 'becoming human' that can only be negotiated
through that which is completely other to the human and even threatens
the dissolution ofthe human as something separa te from nature. However, the
return of a moment of dissolution as an experience of suffering cannot immedi-
ately ground any ethical response or subject position in terms of a movement
beyond reified life. However, it initiates an opening, an opening marked physi-
cally, that enables a perspective to be forged which reveals the damage done to
life within capitalism. Adorno's philosophy enables us to think such an opening,
as a possibility ofliving, which would be at home in its own fallibility, in a dis-
tanced nearness with objectivity, but does not reduce this opening to a dissolu-
tion of the subject into a process of life beyond itself. In any discussion of the
concept oflife and the living in philosophy today, Adorno's reflections en able
us to formulate a set of negative demands which serve as a necessary caution
with regards to any notion of the total dissolution ofsubjectivity in a movement
of becoming beyond the human. Put bluntly, these would be: no dissolution
but self-relinquishment; no redemption within bare life, but resistance to bare
life; no becoming beyond the human, but only within the parameters and fail-
ures ofhuman life itself.


1. lVIBP, p. 83(53.

Chapter 1: Life-Philosophies

1. Jarvis, Simon (1998), Adorno: A CriticalIntroduction, Cambridge: Polit y Press, p. 191.

2. Schnadelbach, Herbert (1984), Philosophy in Germany - 1831-1933, translated by
Eric Matthews, Cambridge, London and New York: Cambridge University Press,
pp. 149-56.
3. Klages' influence on Walter Benjamin is weIl documented, through both concepts
of the auratic and mimesis, but there is also an importance for sorne of Adorno and
Horkheimer's accounts of philosophical anthropology in Dialectic of Enlightenment.
For an account of the connections between Klages' thought and critical theory see
Strauth, Georg (1994), 'Critical Theory and pre-Fascist Social Thought', in History
of European Ide as , Vol. 18, No. 5, ïll-27.
+. Aristotle (1986), De Anima, translated with an introduction by Hugh Lawson-
Tancred, London and New York: Penguin. There is a useful discussion of the rela-
tion ofform and matter in Lawson's introduction, see pp. 50-69.
3. Adorno, T. W. (1996), 'Spengler nach dem Untergang', in Gesammelte Schriften,
10:2, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, p. 65. Adorno, T. W. (1967), 'Spen-
gler after the Decline', in Prisms, translated by Samuel and Shierry Weber, Hert-
fordshire, UK: Neville Spearman, p. 68.
6. Ibid., pp. 65/68.
7. Ibid., pp. 71/72.
8. Cited in Rickman, H. P. (1979), Wilhelm Dilthey - Pioneer of the Human Sciences,
London: Paul Elek, p. 54.
9. Palmer, Richard E. (1969), Hermeneutics - Interpretation and Theory in Schleiermacher,
Dilthey, Heidegger and Gadamer, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press,
p. 107.
1O. MM, pp. 13(15.
11. Adorno, T. W. (1996), Gesammette Schrifter, Vol. 1, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp
Verlag, p. 320, cited in Müller-Doohm, Stefan (2005), Adorno: A Biography, Cam-
bridge, UK and Malden, MA: Polity Press, translated by Rodney Livingstone.
Müller-Doohm's biography provides an illuminating commentary on Adorno's
early work and his early philosophie al influences, see pp. 77-106 in particular.
12. Bowie, Andrew (1997), From Romanticism to Critical Theor] - The PhilosoPh] ofGerman
Literary Theory. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 249-50.
13. AP, pp. 325-45/120-33.
14. Arendt, Hannah (1998), The Human Condition, Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, p. 313, n. 76.
15. INH, pp. 345-66/111-25.
16. Ibid., p. 346/l11-12.
17. Marcuse, Herbert (1987), Hegel's Ontologyandthe TheoryofHistoricity, translated by
Seyla Benhabib, Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.
18. Cited in Benhabib, Seyla, introduction to Marcuse (1987), Hegel's Ontology and the
Theory ofHistoricity, p. xxxi.
19. INH, p. 354/117.
10. Ibid., pp. 354-5/117.
21. Ibid., p. 357/118.
22. Lukacs, Georg (1974), SoulandForm, translated by Anna Bostock, London: Merlin
Press, p. 30.
23. Ibid., pp. 360-1/121.
24. DA, pp. 71-2/42.
25. Marcuse, Herbert (1987), Eros and Civilisation: A Philosophical Enquiry into Freud,
London: Ark.
26. Bauer, Karin (1999), Adorno's Nietzschean Narratives - Critiques of Ideology, Readings
of Wagner, Albany, NY: SUNY, p. 92.
27. DA, p. 73/43.
28. Nietzsche, F. (1968), The Will to Power, translated by Walter Kaufman and R. J.
Hollingdale, edited by Walter Kaufman, New York: Vintage Books, p. 345.
29. Ibid., p. 342.
30. MM, p. 110/97.
31. Ansell-Pearson, Keith (1997), Viroid Life - Perspectives on the Transhuman Condition,
London and New York: Routledge, p. 31.
32. Bernstein, Jay (2001), Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, Cambridge, UK: Cam-
bridge University Press, p. 200.
33. Whitebrook,Joel (1995), Perversion and Utopia - A Study in Psychoana(vsis and Critical
The0t:v, Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, p. 41.
34. Freud, Sigmund (1989), The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay, New York and
London: W. W. Norton and Co., p. 568.
35. Whitebrook, Perversion and Utopia, p. 151, author's italics.
36. Ibid., p. 131.
37. Adorno, T. W. (1996), 'Zum Verhaltnis von Soziologie und Psychologie', in
GesammetteSchrifter, 8: l, pp. 42-85; 'Sociology and Psychology' (1967/1968), trans-
lated by Irving Wohlfarth, New Left Review, No. 46, Nov.-Dec., 67-80, and No. 47,
Jan.-Feb. 1968, 79-97.
38. Ibid., pp. 61-2/80.
39. Whitebrook. Perversion and Utopia, p. 133.
4-0. Adorno, T. W. 'Zum Verhaltnis von Soziologie und Psychologie', p. 72/88.
41. Ibid., pp. 73-4/89.
42. Ibid., p. 75/90.
140 Notes
Chapter 2: Darnaged Life
1. ND, p. 314/320, translation amended.
2. ND, p. 354/362.
3. MM, p. 55/49.
4. DA, p. 54/29.
5. DA, p. 26/7.
6. Agamben, Giorgio (1999), RemnantsofAuschwitz - The WitnessandtheArchive, New
York: Zone Books, pp. 44-5.
7. Agamben (1999), RemnantsofAuschwitz, p. 69.
8. Ibid.,p.165.
9. Ibid., pp. 166-71.
10. Ibid., p. 156.
Il. Agamben, Giorgio (2004), 'No to Bio-Political Tattooing', published as 'Non au
tatouage biopolitique' in Le Monde, Dimanche-Lundi, 11-12.1.04.
12. ND, p. 369.
13. ND, p. 362/369.
14. ND, p. 363/370.
15. MM, p. 13/15.
16. DA,p.57/31.
17. Honneth, Axel (2005), 'A Physiognomy of the Capitalist Form ofLife: A Sketch of
Adorno's Social Theory', in Constellations, Vol. 12, No. l, March 2005,50-65.
18. Ibid., p. 60.
19. MM, pp. 86-7/77.
20. MM, p. 66/59.
21. Benjamin, Walter (1999), Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era ofHigh Capitalism,
translated by Harry Zohn, London and New Y ork: Verso.
22. Gadamer, Hans-Georg (1975), Truth and Method, translated by Joel Weinsheimer
and Donald G. Marshall, London: Sheed and Ward, p. 61.
23. Dilthey, Wilhelm (1988), Introduction to the Human Sciences: An Attempt to Lqy a Founda-
tionfor the Study ofSociety and History, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, p. 173.
24. For an account of Heidegger and Benjamin's hostility to the concept of Erlebnis, see
Martin Jay's book Songs of Experience where there is an excellent account of the
many forms that Erlebnis took in different philosophical traditions at the beginning
of the twentieth century. Heidegger tended towards the use of the term 'lebenserfah-
rung' when he wanted to write ofthe concept oflived experience, primarily due to
his desire to differentiate himself from the tradition of Lebensphilosophie. See Jay,
Martin (2005), SongsofExperience: Modern American and European Variationsona Uni-
versaI Theme, Berkeley, LA and London: University ofCalifornia Press, pp. 349-50.
25. Gadamer (1975), Truth and Method, p. 221.
26. Benjamin, Walter (1999), 'The Storyteller', in Illuminations, translated by Harry
Zohn, London: Pimlico, p. 84.
27. Benj amin, Walter (1969), Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era ofHigh Capitalism,
translated by Harry Zohn, London: New Left Books, p. 117.
28. McCole, John (1993), Walter Benjamin and the Antinomies of Tradition, 1thaca and
London: COl'nell University Press, p.l.
29. Benjamin, Walter (1999), 'The Work of Art in the Age ofits Mechanical Repro-
duction', in Illuminations, pp. 83-108.
30. MM, p. 44/40.
Notes 141

31. For Adorno's analysis of the concept of 'Free Time', see his essay of that title:
Adorno, T. W. (1996), 'Freizeit', in Gesammelte Schriften, 10.2, Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp Verlag, pp. 645-55; (1998), Critical Models Interventions and Catchwords
(1998), translated and with a preface by Henry W. Pickford, New York and
Chichester, \Vest Sussex: Columbia University Press, pp. 167-77.
32. Adorno, T. W. (1996), 'Über Tradition', in Gesammelte Schriften, 10.1, p.320;
'On Tradition' (1992-93), in Telos, No. 94, Winter, p. 82.
33. Honneth, Axel (2005), 'A Physiognomy of the Capitalist Form ofLife', p. 61.

Chapter 3: The Life ofThings

l. ND, p. 24/13.
2. KK, pp. 330-1/218-19.
3. KK, p. 271/178.
4. Bergson, Henri (2002), 'The Possible and the Real', in Ansell-Pearson, Keith and
Mullarkey, John (eds), Henri Bergson: Key Writings, New York and London: Con-
tinuum, p. 232.
5. Bergson, Henri (2002), 'Introduction to Metaphysics', in Henri Bergson. K ftV Writ-
ings, p. 275.
6. ME, p. 52/45.
7. Ibid., p. 53/46.
8. Ibid., p. 53/46.
9. Horkheimer, Max (2005), 'On Bergson's Metaphysics of Time', translated by
Peter Thomas, revised by Stewart Martin, in Radical Philosophy, May /J une, 131,
10. ME, p. 46/38-9.
Il. ND,p.170/168.
12. ND, pp. 171-2/169.
13. DA, p. 214/156.
14. Ibid., p. 214/156.
15. Husserl, E. (1970), The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenol-
ogy - An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, translated by David Carr, Evan-
ston, IL: Northwestern University Press, p. 106.
16. Ibid., p. 123.
17. ND, p. 93/86.
18. Adorno, T. W. (1996), 'Wozu noch Philosophie', in Gesammette Schrifter, 10:2,
p. (1998), p. 461; 'Why Still Philosophy' (1998), in Adorno, T. W., Critical Models.
Interventions and Catchwords, translated by Henry W. Pickford, New York and
Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, p. 9.
19. Ibid, p. 461/9. See also, ND, p. 112/106.

Chapter 4: Dialectics and Life

1. G. W. F. Hegel (1977), Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by A. V. Miller, New

York: Oxford University Press, p. 55.
2. DSH, p. 310/71.
142 JVotes
3. Ibid., p. 311/72.
4. Heidegger, Martin (1970), Hegel's Concept of Experience, New York: Harper and
Row, p. 113.
5. DSH, p. 31O/7l.
6. DSH, p. 316/78.
7. DSH, p. 318/80.
8. DSH, pp. 324-5/pp. 87-8.
9. DSH, pp. 353/121,346/113,369/140.
10. Marcuse (1987), Hegel' s Ontology and the Theory ofHistoricity, p. 146.
Il. Hegel, G. W. F. (1999), ScienceofLogic, translated by A. V. Miller, Amherst, New
York: Humanity Books, p. 770.
12. Hegel, G. W. F. (1977), Phenomenology ofSpirit, p. 52.
13. Ibid., p. 55.
14. Ibid., p. 105.
15. PMP, p. 154/104.
16. PMP, p. 154/104.
17. PMP. p. 205/138.
18. O'Connor, Brian (1999), 'The Concept of Mediation in Hegel and Adorno', Bulle-
tin ofthe Hegel Society ofGreat Britain, 39/40, 84-96. In his 2004 book Adorno's Negative
Dialectic: Philosophy and the Possibility of Critical Rationality (Cambridge, MA and
London: MIT Press), O'Connor gives a more sympathetic construction of Ador-
no's project, but he doesn't alter the arguments made in this paper.
19. Ibid.,p.91.
20. SO, p. 747/250.
21. SO, p. 747/250.
22. O'Connor (1999), 'The Concept of Mediation', p. 93.
23. SO, p. 747/250.
24. SO, p. 748/251.
25. ND, p. 166(163.
26. SO, p. 743/247.
27. DSH, p. 261 (13.
28. DSH, p. 255/6.
29. Osborne, Peter (2005), How to Read Marx, London: Granta, p. 31.
30. Ibid., p. 31.
31. Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich (1977), The German !deology, edited and intro-
duced by C.J. Arthur, London: Lawrence & Wishart.
32. Marcuse, Herbert (1972), 'The Foundations of Historical Materialism', in Mar-
cuse, Studies in Critical Philosophy, translated by Joris de Bres, London: New Left
Books, p. 20.
33. Adorno, T. W. (1996), 'Mariginalien zu Theorie und Praxis', in Gesammette
Schrifter, 10:2, p. 759. Adorno, T. W. (1998), 'Marginalia to Theory and Praxis', in
Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, p. 259.
34. Ibid., p. 766/265.
35. ND, p. 178/pp. 177-8.
36. SeeJarvis, Simon (2004), 'Adorno, Marx and Materialism', in Huhn, Tom (ed.),
The Cambridge Companion to Adorno, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,
pp. 79-10l.
37. For a characterization of Adorno's philosophy as a hermeneutic see Rosen,
Michael (1982), Hegel's Dialectic and Its Criticism, Cambridge, London and New
York: Cambridge University Press. Whereas 1 would agree with Rosen's charac-
terization of Adorno's project as a hermeneutics in this sense of the uncovering of
the immanent social relations of capitalism embedded in objects, a hermeneutics
that is tied to decoding the meaning of subject-object relations in terms of the
processes of social production embedded within them, 1 think it is harder to see
Adorno's project as a hermeneutics, or at least a coherent hermeneutics, when tied
ta the speculative experience ofa relation to nature that is not one oflabour. It is
harder for Adorno to attribute or decode meaning in this relation.
38. BW, p. 379/291.
39. BW, p. 366/282 .
. 1:0. In this context, Adorno refers to his Wagner study, which has not yet solved this
issue; see BW, p. 368/283.
-11. DSH, p. 364/133.
-12. MM, p. 100/84.
-13. BW, p. 380/292.
-14. Benjamin, Walter (1997), 'Surrealism. The Last Snapshot of the European Intelli-
gentsia', in One-Wqy Street and other Writings, translated by Edmund Jephcott and
Kingsley Shorter, London and New York: Verso, pp. 225-39. Adorno, T. W.
1996), 'Rückblickend auf den Surrealismus', in, Gesammette Schrifter, 11, Frankfurt
am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, pp. 101-6, translated as Adorno, T.W. (1992),
'Looking Back on Surrealism', in Notes to Literature, Volume 1, translated by Shierry
Weber Nicholsen, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 86-9.
-15. Benjamin, Walter (1997), 'Surrealism', p. 227.
-16. Ibid., p. 227.
-17. Ibid., p. 227.
-18. NL, p. 104/89.
-19. NL, p. 104/89.
50. BW, pp. 141-2/107.
51. BW,p.157fI19.
52. The phrase 'experience without a subject' is used by MartinJay to cover a number
ofphilosophers' analyses of experience in the twentieth century, including Adorno
and Benjamin; seeJay, Martin (2005), SongsofExperience, pp. 312-409.
53. MBP, p. 222/142.

Chapter 5: Suffering Life

1. ND, p. 135/135.
2. ND, p. 221/221-2.
3. ND, p. 267/270.
4. ND, p. 240/241.
5. In her article on Freud and Adorno, Yvonne Sherratt writes of a marriage of Freud
and Hegelian Marxism, but doesn't account for the history of the natural drives
and instincts themselves, positing rather a polar dialectic between historical ego
and ahistorical drives, which has no mediation. See Sherratt, Yvonne (2004),
'Adorno's Concept of the Self: A Marriage of Freud and Hegelian Marxism', in
Revue Internationale de Philosophie, No. l,Janvier, 101-19.
6. ND, p. 240/241.
144 Notes
7. ND, p. 203/203.
8. ND, p. 228/229.
9. Henry, Michel (1973), The Essence of Manifestation, translated by Girard Etzkorn,
The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, p. 368.
10. Henry, Michel (2003), 'Phenomenology of Life', translated by Nick Hanlon, in
Angelaki, vol. 8, No. 2, p. 106.
Il. Ibid.,p.105.
12. Henry, Michel (2003),1 am the Truth: Toward a Philosophy ofChristianity, translated
by Susan Emmanuel, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, p. 30.
13. Henry, Michel (2003), 'Phenomenology of Life' , p. 107.
14. Amèry, Jean (1980), At the Min d' s Limits - Contemplations of a Survivor on Auschwitz
and Its Realities, translated by Sidney Rosenfeld and Stella P. Rosenfeld, Blooming-
ton and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, p. 33.
15. Critchley, Simon ( 2002), 'Introduction', in Critchley Simon, and Bernasconi,
Robert (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Levinas, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, pp. 6-7.
16. Levinas, E. (1987), Time and the Other, translated by Richard A. Cohen, Pittsburgh:
Duquesne University Press, p. 69.
17. Ibid., p. 72.
18. Levinas, E. (1988), 'Useless Suffering', translated by Richard Cohen, in Bernas-
coni, Robert and Wood, David (eds), The Provocation of Levinas - Rethinking the
Other, London and New York: Routledge, p. 157.
19. Butler, Judith (2004), Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, London
and New York: Verso.
20. Levinas, E (1989), 'There is: Existence without Existents', translated by Alphonso
Lingis, in Hand, Sean (ed.), The Levinas Reader, Oxford and Massachusetts, USA:
Blackwell, p. 32.
21. Harman, Graham (2005), Guerrilla MetaPhysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of
Things, Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court, pp. 42-4.
22. Levinas, E. (1969), Totality and Infinity - An Essay on Exteriority, translated by
Alphonso Lingis, Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, p. 239.
23. Hammer, Espen (2006), Adorno and the Political, London and New York: Routledge,
pp. 68-9.
24. Agamben, Giorgio (1999), Remnants ofAuschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. In this
context,1 think thatJ. M. Bernstein is wrong to daim that Agamben's book does
not provide any basis for a moral daim to be lodged by the victims of the Nazi exter-
mination camps. Bernstein argues that Agamben's daim that certain victims
within the camps were reduced to a form oflife in which there was life no longer,
and that this situation must now become a touchstone for judging morality and
dignity, is a grotesque daim. It is grotesque, for Bernstein, because it does not
afford a place for the daims oflife as a whole within the reduction oflife to a bare
life. 1 think this is a difficult question of interpretation in Agamben's philosophy,
and there are times, elsewhere, where bare life becomes the means to an escape
from reification, which tends towards an affirmation ofbare life in its degradation,
which, in the context of Auschwitz, would be grotesque. But, in this remarkable
book, Agamben is precisely attempting to reflect upon a new and highly disturbing
appearance oflife within the biopolitical realm, a life which is reduced to a form of
death-in-life, a form ofsufferingwhich cannot express its suffering. In this sense, the
Notes 145
impossible attempt to bear witness to this life contained in Agamben's text is the
supreme ethical response to a suffering that cannot even express itself, the supreme
response in Levinasian terms. Far from being a pornography ofhorror, Agamben
attempts to bear witness to that which cannot ev en witness itselfin the moment of
its ruin. For Bernstein's fascinating but divergent discussion of these issues, see
Bernstein,]. M. (2004), 'Bare Life, Bearing Witness: Auschwitz and the Pornogra-
phy of Horror', in Parallax, Vol. 10, no. 1, 2-16.
25. There is an interesting discussion of these issues in relation to the philosophy of
Levinas in Gilbert, Paul and Lennon, Kathleen (2005), The World, the Flesh and the
Subject - Continental Themes in the Philosophy ofMind and Body, Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press, pp. 27-43.
26. Levinas, E. (1969), Totality and Infinity, p. 28.
27. Geuss, Raymond (2005), 'Suffering and Knowledge in Adorno', in Constellations,
Vol. 12, No. 1, March 2005, p. 16.
28. ND, p. 259/262.
29. ND, p. 260/263.
30. DA, pp. 208-9/151.
31. Ibid., p. 209/151.
32. This account is taken from Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968), The Visible and the Invisible,
edited by Claude Lefort, translated by Alphonso Lingis, Evanston, IL: Northwes-
tern University Press, and Merleau-Ponty, M. (2003), Nature - Course Notesfrom
the Collège de France, compiled with notes by Dominique Séglard, translated from the
French by Robert Vallier, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Studies in
Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy. Any critique of these two works of
Merleau-Ponty's that l have been referring to has to admit its own presumption,
as one is an unfinished project, and the other is a lecture series constructed from
provisional notes and student notes.
33. Merleau-Ponty, M. (2003), Nature, p. 223.
34. Ibid., p. 224.
35. Ibic)., p. 223.
36. See Benjamin, Walter (1999), 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Repro-
duction', in Illuminations, p.216, where Benjamin gives this definition of aura,
which is used by Adorno here, although Adorno will differentiate his concept of
the auratic in terms ofits use in aesthetics from Benjamin.
37. MM, p. 100/89.
38. Benjamin, Walter (1999), 'Experience and Poverty', in Selected Writings, Volume 2,
1927-1934, translated by Rodney Livingstone and others, edited by Jennings,
Michael W., Eiland, Howard and Smith, Gary, Cambridge, MA and London:
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, p. 732.
39. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968), The Visible and the Invisible, p. 130.
40. MBP,p.175/112.
41. Jarvis, Simon (2004), 'What is Speculative Thinking?', Revue Internationale De Philo-
sophie, Vol. 63, Janvier, No. 227, p.82. Bernstein's reading of Adorno through
McDowell and Brandom shares a certain affinity with this thought of a phenomen-
ology of affect, but remains within a certain epistemological register through the
use of concepts such as a material inference. Jarvis mentions Michel Henry in this
context but doesn't elaborate on that in this article.
42. Ibid., p. 82.
146 Notes
Chapter 6: Natural Life
1. McDowell,]ohn (1994), Mind and World, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard
University Press. The main tenets of Bernstein's argument are in his book Adorno:
Disenchantment and Ethics, but an earlier formulation ofhis argument is also impor-
tant, as it outlines more specifically his agreements and dis agreements with
McDowell; see Bernstein,]. M. (2000), 'Re-Enchanting Nature', in Journalfor the
British Societyfor Phenomenology, Vol. 31, No. 3, October, 277-96.
2. Bernstein,]ay (2001), Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, p. 40.
3. Ibid., p. 9l.
4. Ibid., p. 9l.
5. Ibid., p. 196.
6. Bernstein,]. M. (2000), 'Re-Enchanting Nature', p. 282.
7. McDowell (1994), Mind and World, p. 23.
8. Ibid., p. 46.
9. Ibid., p. 78.
10. Bernstein,]. M. (2000), 'Re-Enchanting Nature', p. 281.
Il. Bernstein acknowledges that his use ofthis concept cornes from Robert Brandom's
1994 book Making It Explicit: Reasoning) Representing and Discursive Commitment (Har-
vard University Press: Cambridge, MA and London). For a further discussion of
material inference and Bernstein's use of Brandom's work, see Bernstein,]. M.
(2004), 'Mimetic Rationality and Material Inference: Adorno and Brandom', in
Revuelnternationale de Philosophie, No. l ,Janvier. 7-25.
12. 1 am indebted to the following critique of McDowell for my point here: Wright,
Crispin (1996), 'Human Nature', European Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 4, No. 2,
August, 235-55. The article is a review of Mind and World. Bernstein mentions
Wright's critique in his article 'Re-Enchanting Nature', but doesn't focus any
attention on it.
13. Ibid., p. 218.
14. INH, pp. 354-5/117.
15. Bernstein,]. M. (2001), Adorno: DisenchantmentandEthics, pp. 191-2.
16. Stern, Robert (1999), 'Going beyond the Kantian Phi10sophy: On McDowell's
Hege1ian Critique of Kant', European ]ournal ~f Philosophy, Vol. 7, No. 2. Aug.,
pp. 260-1.
1Î. Bernstein,]. M. (2004), 'Negative Dia1ectic as Fate: Adorno and Hegel', in Huhn,
Tom (cd.), The Cambridge Companion to Adorno, pp. 19-51.
18. Ibid.,p.41.
19. Bernstein,]. M. (1992), The Fate ofArt Aesthetic Alienation from Kant to Derrida and
Adorno, Cambridge, UK: Polit y Press, 1992, p. 204.
20. This point is commented upon by Kirk Pillow (1999), 'Comment on Stern's "Going
beyond the Kantian Phi1osophy" " in European Journal of Philosop~y. Vol. 7, No. 2,
Aug., pp. 270-4.
21. MM, p. 83/74.
22. NL,p.21/13.
23. Ibid., p. 18/10.
24. Kant, Immanuel (1952), Critique of Judgement, trans1ated by]ames Meredith,
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952, p. 58.
25. Ibid, p.64.
26. BelL David (198Î), 'The Art of]udgement', Mind, Vol. 96, 234-7.
plo tes 147
27. SO, p. 752/254.
28. MM, p. 270/236.
29. ND, p. 99/92.
30. AT, p. 86/53.
31. In AT, Adorno refers to the 'unique and truly freeJohn Dewey', p. 498/335. There
is also an approving reference to Dewey in DSH, p. 373J144.
32. Dewey, John (1934), Art as Experience, New York: Milton Balch and Company.
33. Ibid., p. 168.
34. Ibid., p.193.
35. Ibid., p. 162.
36. Ibid., pp. 21-4.
37. AT, pp. 87-8/54.
38. AT, p. 364/245.
39. AT, p. 364/245.
40. AT, p. 363/245.
41. AT, p. 365/246.
42. AT, p. 364/245.
43. AT, p. 490/33l.
44. AT, pp. 489-90/331.

Chapter 7: The Possibility of Living Today

1. MBP, p. 175/l12.
2. Menke, Christoph (2003), 'On a Way ofSaying No', translated by James Guscn in
Schafhausen, Nicolaus, Müller, VanessaJ oan, and Hirsch, Michael, The Possibili~v
of The Impossible, New York and Berlin: Lukas and Sternberg, pp. 61-9.
3. MBP, p. 175/112.
4. See Barnes,Jonathan (1995), 'Metaphysics', in Barnes,]. (cd.), The CambridgeCom-
pan ion to Aristotle, Cambridge, UK and Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 1995, p. 94.
5. Aristotlc (1987), Metaph]sics, Book IX, (8), 1047b, in Ackrill,j. L. (ed.), A .N'eu'
Aristotle Reader, Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 326.
6. Ibid., 1049b, p. 326.
7. MBP, p. 60/37.
8. MBP, p. 117/74.
9. ND, p. 266/269.
10. PMP, p. 63/39.
Il. PMP, p. 107/71.
12. ND, p. 293/298.
13. ND, p. 264/267.
14. ND, p. 229/230.
15. ND, p. 222/222.
16. Adorno's concept ofredemption is usually only read through the final aphorism of
Minima NJoralia, as though this is, as implied by the tide of the aphorism ('zum
Ende'), the final word. Agamben writes that Adorno uses this aphorism as a 'sear
for Minima A10ralia. Ifit is to be used in this way, then a sense of the irony of doing so
148 Notes
is needed. Adorno's hostility to any systematic philosophy is most fully encapsu-
lated in the form ofthis book, and its conclusive finale should surely be read with a
strong sense ofits ironic meaning that there is precisely no closure or final word. See
MM, p.283/153, and Agamben, Giorgio (2004), Le Temps qui Reste. Un commentaire
de FÉpître aux Romains, translated from the ltalian by Judith Revel (Paris: Rivages
Poches, Petite Bibliothèque), p.63. Agamben's book was yet to be published in
English at the time ofwriting this section, and any translations are my own, taken
from the French edition.
17. Agamben, Giorgio (2004), Le Temps qui Reste, pp. 63-79. Taubes, Jacob (2004),
The Political Theology of Paul, translated by Dana Hollander, edited by Assmann,
Aleida and Assmann,Jon, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, p. 74. See also
MM, p. 283/247.
18. Taubes (2004), ThePolitical TheologyofPaul, p. 76.
19. Agamben, Giorgio (2004), Le Temps qui Reste, p. 68.
20. Agamben, Giorgio (2004), Le Temps qui Reste, p.69, my translation from the
21. Ibid., p. 76.
22. Agamben, Giorgio (2002), 'The Time that is Left', in Epoché, Volume 7, Issue 1,
Fall, p. 2. Agamben has written extensively on messianic time, but his understand-
ing of the relation oftime and the remnant is considered in detail here.
23. For critiques along these lines, see Hirsch, Michael (2003), 'U topia of Noniden-
tity', pp. 47-61 and Norbert Bolz's comments to Michael Hirsch in a transcribed
conversation, both in Schafhausen et al. (eds), The Possibility of the Impossible. Bolz
states that: ' ... it would have been really interesting if Adorno had conceived his
negativism in such a way that he hadn't allowed it to end as an as-ifredemption,
in order to satisfy our desires for theology, but instead had said: immanence is truly
inescapable' (p.l00).
24. ND, p. 18/6.
25. Reijen, Willem Van (2003), 'Redemption and Reconciliation in Benjamin and
Adorno', in Schafhausen et al. (eds), The Possibility of the Impossible, p. 77.
26. MM, p. 283/247.

Chapter 8: Exhausted Life

1. Deleuze, Gilles (1998), 'The Exhausted', in Essays Critical and Clinical, translated by
David W. Smith and Michael A. Greco, London and New York: Verso, pp. 152-74.
2. Ibid, p. 152.
3. Ibid, p. 163.
4. 'Versuch das Endspiel zu verstehen', in NL, p.294(270. Translated as Adorno,
T. W. (2003), 'Trying to Understand Endgame', by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, in
Tiedemann, Rolf (ed.), Can One Live After Auschwitzl, Stanford, CA: Stanford U ni-
versity Press.
5. NL, p. 319/292.
6. NL, p. 319/294.
7. ND, p. 366/373.
8. NL, pp. 556-67/193-211.
9. NL, pp. 233-51/200-15.
Notes 149
10. MM, p. 126/112.
Il. MM, p. 91/81.
12. Adorno, T. W. (1996), 'Aufzeichnungen zu Kafka', in GesammelteSchriften, 10.1: 1,
Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, p.255. Translated as Adorno, T. W.
(2003), 'Notes on Kafka', by Samuel Weber and Shierry Weber Nicholsen, in Can
One Live Ajter Auschwitz:,?, p. 212.
13. Ibid., p. 258/215.
14. Ibid., p. 263/219.
15. Ibid., p. 267/222.
16. Agamben, Giorgio (1999), 'Kommerell, or on Gesture', in Potentialities: Collected
Essays in Philosophy, edited and trans1ated with an introduction by Daniel Heller-
Roazen, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, p. 84. Agamben also writes on
gesture in Agamben, Giorgio (1993), 'Notes on Gesture', in Infancy and History:
Essays on the Destruction of Experience, translated by Liz Heron, London and New
York: Verso, pp. 137-40.
17. Ibid, p. 84.
18. Alexander Garda Düttmann has writtcn about Adorno's thought as a gcsture, in
terms of its emphasis on the necessary exaggeration of all thought, a thought that
always overshoots its object. See Düttmann, Alexander Garda (2000), 'Thinking
as Gesture: A Note on Dialectic ofEnlightenment', in New German Critique, No. 81, Fall,
19. Adorno, T. W. (1996), 'Musikim hintergrund', in Gesammelte Schriften, 18, Frank-
furt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, p.820. Adorno, T. W. (2002); 'Music in the
Background', in Essays on Music, selected, with introduction, commentary and
notes by Richard Leppert, with new translations by Susan. H. Gillespie, Berkeley,
LA: University ofCalifornia Press, p. 507.
20. Ibid, pp. 821-2/508.
21. NL, p. 250/213.
22. MM, p. 179/157.
23. ND, p. 24/13.
24. Adorno, T. W. (1996), 'Fortschritt', in GesammelteSchriften, Vol. 10.2, Kulturkritikund
Gesellschaft, II, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, pp. 617-38, translated as
Adorno, T. W (2003), 'Progress', in Can OneLiveafter Auschwitz:,?, pp. 626-7/135.
25. Ibid, p. 637/144.


1. For an interesting and entertaining account of the historical and conceptual issues
at play in the division between continental and analytic philosophy, see Critchley,
Simon (1998), 'Introduction: What is Continental Philosophy?', in Critchley, S.
and Schroeder, W. (eds), A Companion to Continental Philosophy, Massachusetts and
Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 1-17.
2. Deleuze, Gilles (2001), Pure Immanence - Essays on a Life, introduction by John
Rajchman, translation by Anne Boyman, New York: Zone Books, p. 29.
3. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix (1988), A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, translated by Brian Massumi, London: Athlone Press, p. 238.
4. Hallward, Peter (2006), Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation,
London and N ew York: Verso, p. 58.
150 Notes
5. Hallward, Peter (2006), Out ofthis Tl'orld. Deleuze and the Phiiosop1l:.Y ofCreation, p. 162.
6. Foucault, Michel (1976), The History of Sexuali~y - Volume One: An Introduction.
translated by Robert Hurley, London: Penguin, p. 139.
7. Agamben, Homo Sacer, p. 1.
8. Agamben, HomoSacer, p. 18.
9. Agamben, HomoSacer, p. 187.
10. Ibid., p. 187.
Il. Deleuze, Gilles (2001), Pure Immanence - Essqvs on a Lijè, pp. 28-9.
12. This differentiates Deleuze's text from that of Maurice Blanchot, whose semi-amo-
biographical account ofa similar moment before death positions this experience as
a moment of transcendence which can never be captured again in life; see Blanchot,
The Instant of My Death .. translated by Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford, CA: Stan-
ford University Press, 2000).
13. Deleuze, 'Immanence: A Life ... ', p. 29. Christian Kerslake has argued that Deleu-
ze's thinking ofimmanence changes throughout his philosophical work. He argues
that, in later works, Deleuze's concept of immanence refers to a pre-reflexive stare
of consciousness prior to any form of subject or object. Both subjectivity and objec-
tivity then become transcendent to a pre-reflexive plane of immanence, which is
configured in this 1ate essayas a 'life'. Kerslake argues that Deleuze's earlier ontol-
ogy of difference was elaborated through a concept of absolute immanence that is
not prior to a transcendent subjectivity or objectivity, but a sense of difference that
is immanent to aIl forms of subjectivity and objectivity, and aIl relations between
subject and object. The move to a 'pre-philosophical presupposition' of absolute
immanence as a 'life' constructs an originary 'indifference' as the basis for an ontol-
ogy of difference, which does not initially rely on an originary concept of indiffer-
entiation. Furthermore, the 'pre-reflexive' nature of such an ontology leads to the
ban on its realization. The 'life' of immanence is always beyond the grasp of a
reflexive consciousness, and thus Deleuze's daim to institute a 'realized ontology'
is complicated by this late move towards a philosophy of immanence as originary
indifferentiation. 1t is precisely this indifferentiation that Agamben stresses in his
reading of Deleuze that causes the difficulties for a concept of a life, which can never
be actualized or thought as experience itself, or through the categories ofsubjectiv-
ity and objectivity. See Kerslake, Christian, 'The Vertigo of Philosophy: Deleuze
and the Problem of Immanence', Radical Philosophy, Vol. 113, May/June 2002,
pp. 10-24.
14. See Hardt and Negri (2005), A1ultitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire.
London, New Y ork: Hamish Hamilton, p. 337.
15. Ansell-Pearson, Keith (1999), Germinal Life - The Difference and Repetition ofDeleuze,
London and New York: Routledge, p. 207.
16. Ibid.,p.205.
17. ND, p. 366/373.
18. DA, pp. 192-234/137-72.
19. 1 am indebted to Simon Jarvis for pointing out the confusion in my original use of
the terms 'speculative materialism' and 'materialist metaphysics', and thus helping
me to form this as a problem for Adorno's concept oflife.
20. ME, p. 54/47.
21. MBP, p. 132/83.
22. Harman, Graham (2005), Guerrilla Metapkvsics: Phenomenologv and the Carpent~v of
Things, p.85. Harman goes on in this book to develop a fully blown materialist
Notes 151

metaphysics, which considers objects as both substances and relations, and consid-
ers their relationality in terms of inter-object relationality as weIl subject-object
relations. Thus, he develops an ingenious metaphysics oflife, in a different direc-
tion from Deleuze's, which does not dissolve individuals, considered as subjects
or objects, within a process of inorganic life beyond any incarnation in matter.
Of course, this pushes metaphysics much further than Adorno goes, but it is an
interesting approach to think about in relation to Adorno's philosophy and would
ex tend a speculative materialism into a materialist metaphysics in a differem way
than is figured in Deleuze's vitalist thinking. 1 am indebted to Peter Hallward for
pointing me in the direction of this book.
23. This critique of Adorno needing to make sense of an object as non-conceptual is
mounted by Steven Vogel; see Vogel, Steven (1996), Against Nature: The Concept of
Nature in Critical Theor], Albany, NY: SUNY, p. 79.
24. Greco, Monica (2005) 'On the Vitality of Vitalism', Theory, Culture and Societ)',
Vol. 22(1), 15-27.
25. Butler,Judith (2005), Givingan AccountofOneself, New York: Fordham University
Press; see pp. 101-9, particularly, but there are fascinating discussions of Adorno' s
philosophy in relation to morality and subjectivity throughout the book.

Works by Adorno

Adorno's wntmgs appeared mainly in the 23-volume Gesammelte Schriften

(Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag), edited by Rolf Tiedemann. They
are listed here in volume order.

'Die Idee der Naturgeschichte', in Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 1, Philosophische Frühschrif-

ten, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996.
'Die Aktualitat der Philosophie', in Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 1, Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996.
'Thesen über die Sprache des Philosophen', in Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 1, Philosophische
Frühschriften, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996.
Dialektik der Aufklarung: Philosophische Fragmente, Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 3 (written
with Max Horkheimer), Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996.
Minima Moralia, Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 4, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag,
Zur Metakritik der Erkenntnistheorie, Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 5, Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996.
Drei Studien zu Hegel, Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 5, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp
Verlag, 1996.
Negative Dialektik, Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 6, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag,
/isthetische Theorie, Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 7, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag,
'Zum Verhaltnis von Soziologie und Psychologie', in Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 8, Sozio-
logische Schriften, l, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996.
'Thesen über Tradition', in Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 10.1, K ulturkritik und GesellschaJt, l,
Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996.
'Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft', in Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 10.1, Kulturkritik und
Gesellschaft, l, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996.
'Freizeit', in GesammelteSchriften, Volume 10.2, KulturkritikundGesellschaJt, II, Frankfurt am
Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996,
'Aufzeichnungen zu Kafka', in Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 10.2, Kulturkritik und
Gesellschaft, II, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996,
'Fortschritt', in Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 10.2, K ulturkritik und Gesellschaft, II, Frankfurt
am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996,
Bibliography 153
'Zu Subjekt und Objekt', in Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 10.2, Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft,
II, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1996,
Notenzur Literatur, GesammelteSclzrijten, Volume 11, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag,
'Musik, Sprache und ihr Verhaltnis im gegenwartigen Komponieren', in Gesammelte
Schriften, Volume 16, Musikalische Schriften, 1-111, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp
Verlag, 1990.
'Über das gegenwartige Ver hal tnis von Philosophie und M usik', in Gesammelte Schriften.,
Volume 18, Musikalische Schriften, V, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1984.
'Musik im Hintergrund', in Gesammelte Schriften, Volume 18, Musikalische Schriften, V,
Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1984.
Theodor W. Adorno / Walter Benjamin, Briefwechsel 1928-1940, edited by Henri Lonitz,
Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1994.
Kanfs Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, Nachgelassene Schriften, Abteilung IV, Vorlesungen, Band 4,
edited by RolfTiedemann, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1998.
Probleme der Moralphilosophie, Nachgelassene Schriften, Abteilung IV, Vorlesungen, Band 10,
edited by RolfTiedemann, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1998.
l\1etap~ysik.· Begriff und Probleme, Nachgelassene Schriften, Abteilung IV, Vorlesungen, Band 14,
edited by RolfTiedemann, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1998.

W orks in English Translation

'The Actuality ofPhilosophy' (1977), translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor, Telos, No.

31, Spring, pp. 120-33.
Adorno-Benjamin, The Complete Correspondence 1928-1940 (1999), translated by Nicholas
Walker, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Aesthetic Theory (1999), translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor, London: Athlone Press,
Against Epistemology.· A Metacritique - Studies in Husserl and the Phenomenological Antinomies
(1982), translated by Willis Domingo, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Can One Live After Auschwitz? A Philosophical Reader (2003), edited with an introduction by
Rolf Tiedemann, and translated by Rodney Livingstone and others, Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press.
Critical Models.· InterventionsandCatchwords (1998), translated by Henry W. Pickford, New
York: Columbia University Press.
Dialectic of Enlightenment.' Philosophical Fragments (2002), translated by EdmundJephcott,
edited by Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Essays on Music (2002), selected, with introduction, commentary, and notes by Richard
Leppert, with new translations by Susan. H. Gillespie, Berkeley, LA and London:
University ofCalifornia Press.
Hegel: ThreeStudies (1993), translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, Cambridge, MA and
London: MIT Press,
'The Idea of Natural History' (1984), translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor, Telos,
No. 60, 111-25.
Kant's Critl:que afPure Reason (2001), edited by Rolf Tiedemann, translated by Rodney
Livingstone, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
MetalJhysics, Concept and Problems (2000), translated by EdmundJephcott, edited by Rolf
Tiedemann, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
154 Bibliography
.\1inima Moralia. ReJlectionsfrom Damaged Lijè (1997), translated by E. F. N. Jephcott,
London and New York: Verso.
uVegative Dialectics (1966), trans1ated by E. B. Ashton, London and New York: Routledge.
uVotes to Literature, Volumes 1 and 2 (1992), translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, New
York: Columbia University Press.
'On Tradition' (1992-93), Telos, No. 94, Winter, 75-82.
Philosophy of Modern Music (2004), translated and introduced by Anne. G. Mitchell and
Wesley V. Blomster, New York and London: Continuum.
Prisms (1983), translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, MA: MIT Press.
Problems of Moral Philosophy (2000), edited by Thomas Schroder, translated by Rodney
Livingstone, Cambridge, UK: Polit y Press.
'Sociology and Psychology' (1967-68), translated by Irving Wohlfarth, in New Left
Review, No. 46, Nov.-Dec. 1967,67-80, and No. 47,Jan.--Feb. 1968,79-97.

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addendum 70-3 'Trying to U nderstand Endgame'

Adorno-Benjamin dispute 62-8 111-14
Adorno, Theodor, W., works cited 'Why still Philosophy?' 48
'The Actuality ofPhilosophy' 12 affectivity 32,47,49, 74,80-1,83-4
Against Epistemology 42,44, 133 affinity 70
Aesthetic Theory 16, 95, 97-9 Agambden, Giorgio 3,26-31, 78,107-9,
'The Concept of the U nconscious 117, 126-8
in the Transcendental Doctrine Améry,Jean 74-5,7ï
of the Soul' 11 Ansell-Pearson, Keith 20, 129
Dialectic ofEnlightenment (with Max Arendt, Hannah 12
Horkheimer) 17-18, 19,26, Aristotle 8, 101-4, 133
46-7,80,121,132 Auschwitz 24-7,30, 78
'The Essayas Form' 92-4
'Free Time' 37 bar life 2, 28, 30, 126-8
Hegel: ThreeStudies 51-7,60.64 Beckett, Samuel 111-14.120
'The Idea ofN atural History' 12. Benjamin, Walter 12, 16,35-7,62-8,
13-17,89 82, 106, 117, 122
Kan!' s Critique ofPure Reason 40 Bergson, Henri 7, 10, 12, 40-4, 46, 124
'Looking Back on Surrealism' 65-8 Bernstein,J.M. 4,20, 72,84,85-91, 130
M etaphysics: Concept and Problems l, bipowerfbipolitics 27-8, 126-8
100, 102, 133 Bloch, Ernst 114-15
Minima Moralia 2,25,30,31-3,37,82,
85,92, 104, 115, 119 Canguilhem, Georges 137
vNegative Dialectics 24-5, 29, 39, 46, 48, capitalism 25, 31, 106, 119
58-9,60,69,70-1,79,120 constellation 59-60, 64
'Notes on Kafka' 116-18 Critchley, Simon 75
'Marginalia to Theory and Praxis'
62 death 25-31
'Music in the Background' 118-19 dialectics 3, 51-68, 129
'On Subject and Object' 58-60 Dilthey, Wilhelm 7, 10, 12,33
'On Tradition' 37-8 Dewey,John 95-7
Problems of Moral Philosophy 56-7
'Progress' 120 embodiment 68, 81-4
'Sociology and Psychology' 22-3 enlightenment 30-1
'Spengler after the Decline' 9 exhaustion 105-6.110-11,112-23
'The Transcendence ofThings and of experience 10-11,32-8,51-3,69,93-4.
the Noematic in Husserl's 96-9,120-1. 134-6
Phenomenology' Il expression 8, 16,67-8
Index 163
Foucault, Michel 27 McCole, John 36
freedom 102-5 McDowell,John 72,85-8,90,130
Freud, Sigmund 18,20-3,56-7,60-1, 71 Menke, Christoph 100
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice 81-4
Gadamer, Hans-Georg 33 metaphysics 62-3,64-5,72-3,90-1,119
gestur 16, 116-18 mimesis 70-1,91,94-9,121-2
Geuss, Raymond 79 muselmann 26-7,28-9, 78
Greco, Monica 137 mUSIC 107,118-19
Guattari, Félix 125
nature 15-17,18,56-7,62,85-99
Hallward, Peter 125, 126 narcissism 22-3
Hammer, Espen 78 Negri. Antonio 128-9
Hardt, Michael 128-9 Nietzsche, Friedrich 2, 7,9, 12, 18-20,
Harman, Graham 77, 134 23, 108, 124
Hegel, G.W.F. 13,14-15,38,44,49, non-identicalfnon-identity 3,40,43,46,
51-60,64,90-1,124,130,135 68,69,88-9,102,105,109,112,116
Heidegger, Martin 3, 10, 13-14, 16, 39,
47-50,52,54,131 O'Connor, Brian 57-60
Henry, Michel 4, 73-5,84 object 41,44,49, 55, 58-9. 134
hermeneutics l, 12 ontology 3, 13-15,47-50,94
history 15-17 Osborne, Peter 60-1
Honneth, Axel 31
Horkheimer, Max 17-18,19,26,30, phenomenology 39-40,44-6. 51. 53-4,
46-7,80,121,132 83
humanfinhuman 19,87-8, 125, 137 place-name 115-16, III, 112-13,116,
Husserl, Edmund 2,3, 7, Il,39,44-7,53 131, 132
psychoanalysis Il,20-3, 71
identity 25
individu al 26 reconcilia tion 106, 107-1 L 112-1 '7
intuition 41-4 redemption 30,106,107-11
reification 16,23,29-33
Jarvis, Simon 6, 83 Reijen, Willem Van Il °
Kafka, Franz 116-18, 120 Schopenhauer, Arthur 7, Il
Kant.lmmanuel Il, 14,29,40-1,42, self-preservation 6, 17-20, 29
52,55-6,69,89-4,103-5,134 Simmel, Georg 7, 8, 39
Klages, Ludwig 8 specimen 26, 78
Kraus, Karl 119 Spengler, Oswald 9
spontaneity 86-7
lebensphilosophie 1, 6-13, 80 Stern, Robert 90
Levinas, Emmanuel 4, 72, 75-9,84 subjectfsubjectivity 17-18,20-1,40-1,
life, concept of 1-2,6-7,13,31-2,39, 55-6,58-9.63-4,98-9.119-23
79-80,85,89-90,100,122,124-37 suffering 31-2,46,54,61,69-84
Lukacs, Georg 8, 15-17,87 surrealism 65-7
Marcuse, Herbert 14-15, 18, 54. 61
Marx, Karl 12,51,56,60-2, 79-81, tradition 37
Marxism 60-2, 79-80 vitalism 8, 12, 124-30
materialism 60-2, 130-4
matter 61-2, 102, 133-4 Whitebrook,Joel 20-1,47-50