The case for Adorno
Reproduced below is a comment that a member of The Rotten Elements group left under my first post on Adorno.
I was bemused by the reaction to that post from some of the rotters, because I didn't consider that my piece was even addressing, let alone writing off, Adorno's thought as a whole. I was only discussing his late essay 'On Resignation' and the political context surrounding it. I consider that the arguments of 'On Resignation' were bad ones, especially amidst the turmoil, euphoria, and occasional openings for revolutionary change in late '60s Europe, and I think that Adorno's treatment of his radical students during that period was pretty shabby.
(At the same time, I think the way that some radical students dealt with Adorno was problematic - I noted how easily their apparently anti-academic stunts were assimilated by a rightward-shifting intelligentsia in the late '70s and '80s. Perry Anderson tells the story well.)
I don't see how any consideration of Adorno's career and work can avoid grappling with the mistakes he made in the late '60s and the repudiation of left-wing politics that is part and parcel of 'On Resignation'.
But to say this is not to say that all of Adorno's work is ipso facto worthless. If we were to use that sort of reductionist logic we'd have to write off everything Lukacs wrote because of his complicity with Hungarian Stalinism, or dismiss The Revolution Betrayed on the grounds that its author once advocated the militarisation of labour, or shun the profound insights of Marx's late writing on the Russian peasant commune because of the nasty footnote he inserted in (and later excised from) Capital to celebrate the ongoing destruction of Russian peasant life by foreign capital. I tried to make it clear in my second post on Adorno that I think we have to relate the politics and political behaviour of a writer to that writer's work, without dissolving one into the other.
Phew. Now that's out of the way, here's an argument for Adorno:
Fuck me Maps, this is awful.
Without Adorno, the rotten elements would not exist. Look at our December 'second coming of the rotten elements', the guy in the swimsuit. Who's that then? Yep you guessed, the 20th century's most radical of interlocutor of 'the object'. Objectfied. Yes we make a monkey out of him but we make monkeys out of everyone.
To me personally, the man's a saint. I'll tell you why. 2001 and I'm being drowned in a relentless tide of Socialist Alliance activism, where everything's joined up, all the same. A world where you couldn't express a difference; a contradiction. Where the circulation of activism is fed not by money by an exchange of enthusiasms and 'things done'. This is the end of thinking.
And the CPGB were doing the same. They had there own universal equivalent=democracy. Do the SA stuff and talk about 'democracy'. I am a democrat but this is democracy depleted and bereft of any foundation.
Imagine my delight to find a book that debunked this methodology of bad totalities hastened along by bad activism and bad ideology. They were 'mad', not me. That allowed me to unpick the formal logic of the left and actually understand Marx's project away from some uninteresting rubbish about crisis theory. That book was Negative Dialectics and the writer was Adorno.
Effectively, you are lining yourself up with 'activity' without thought. Activity can only be effective if it contains its own critique. Thus, Adorno is right, you should never realise 'activity' or objectify it. It should always be on the point of collapse, of being dragged back into introspection, resignation maybe. Otherwise it just becomes a 'thing' that you do, that takes on its own life and cannot be liberatory in any sense. it becomes another bad totality that we all have to fit into (for example, British demos, even the million-strong have been a lifeless doze recently; they are an object, a routine, completely reified).
Without Adorno we're fucked, I'm telling you…