Sunday, 4 April 2004

From "Adorno: A Critical Introduction"

By Simon Jarvis.

In the Introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel shows that no attempt to point to a sensuous particular can wholly free itself from universal categories [...] For Hegel, dialectic is the repeated experience of this implicatedness or "mediatedness" of whatever is offered up as something pure, "immediate" or self-sufficient.

This indicates why one prevalent conception of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit -- that it presents a triumphal progress from sense-certainty to absolute knowing -- needs qualification. Dialectic, for Hegel, is not simply a progress, but at the same time a working-back, an uncovering of the ways in which what is apparently certain and immediate already contains presuppositions. Hegel took this kind of working-back to demonstrate, in particular, that apparently purely logical or perceptual identifications were already tied up with political, social and cultural patterns of recognition. This is why Hegel feels obliged to offer in the Phenomenology of Spirit what has often seemed to philosophers with a more strictly limited conception of philosophy's task a bewildering combination of philosophical, historical, aesthetic and scientific reflection. For Hegel, these questions are not arbitrarily added together in the Phenomenology; rather, a consideration of the most elementary judgement necessarily demands a consideration of its conditions of possibility, conditions which are not only transcendantal but also empirical-historical. In giving such an account the Phenomenology comes to question the finality of the very distinction between the transcendental and the empirical itself.

[...] Dialectical thinking lies not in an attempt to purge thinking of all misidentification, but in the recognition of the insufficiency of any given identification [...] This is the first sense in which dialectic is "negative" for Adorno. [...] Dialectic shows up the mutual implicatedness of concepts and objects, thought and being. As soon as it is wholly given up to thought (method) or to being (world-picture), it is no longer dialectic at all, but only a new kind of classifying schema, and a wholly arbitrary one at that. The title Negative Dialectics, then, does not promise a portable method which could then be taken away and applied at will to an inert "material"; nor does it offer a dogmatic world-picture; instead it intends to name what happens in Adorno's thought itself.

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