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Immanent Critique and Dialectical Mimesis in Adorno and Horkheimers Dialectic of Enlightenment

Steven Helmling
Given the ubiquity of the phrase immanent critique in Theodor Adornos oeuvre, both early and late, it is surprising that what Adorno might have meant by it has received such perfunctory attention from commentators, most of whom treat it as a self-evident premise to dispose of on the way to weightier matters.1 Yet in this phrase, Adorno comes as close as he does anywhere to naming something like a programmatic ambition for his work, its distinctive method as well as its more comprehensive aims. The accomplishment it proposes is meant not only to distinguish Adornos work (and that of his Frankfurt School colleagues) from the conventional critical
1. Most valuable for my purposes have been Susan Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt Institute (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1977), 6669 (especially useful in delimiting some crucial differences between Adorno and Horkheimer); Robert Hullot-Kentor, Introduction to Adornos Idea of Natural History, Telos 60 (1984): 1057; and J. M. Bernstein, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 8790. For a specialized argument for immanent critique as a method at once of interpretation and of aesthetic evaluation, see Christopher Menke, The Sovereignty of Art: Aesthetic Negativity in Adorno and Derrida (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998), 13643.
boundary 2 32:3, 2005. Copyright 2005 by Duke University Press.

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practices of his era, but to model a riskier, more comprehensive range of critical effort, and thus to challenge criticism-as-usual to enlarge its scope, to take on greater burdens, to aim, even at the price of failure, at ever-more daunting tasks. Adorno means to bring critique itself into the critical crosshairs, to enlarge or arouse the very self-consciousnesseven the bad conscienceof critique, and he means the consequences to bear not merely on the kinds of objects critique might target, or the kinds or method or scope of the arguments it might mount, but on the very writing practice in which critique performs itself, in which it accomplishes as much of its program as it manages to deliver on. So rather than take immanent critique as a given, I want in this essay to try to focus fault lines and contradictions in Adornos theory and practice of immanent critique that seem to me suggestive and illuminating for the antithetical or dialectical uses to which Adorno turns it, or, better, allows or suffers it to turn his writing. I aim to set the performative contradiction (as Jrgen Habermas calls it) of Adornos immanent critique in relation to other constructions (Walter Benjamins) and/or critiques (Georg Lukcss, Habermass) of it, in ways that I think illuminate from a novel angle all these gures and the issues at stake in their disagreements over what critique is and how it should conduct itself. I mean to expound Adornos immanent critique as not only a critical program but also a performative one, that is, a reexive self-consciousness about his own writing practice as well, and thus a considerable motivation of the air and drama that are so distinctive to the energetic carriage of his dialectical sentences. Since, in what follows, I want to foreground the implication of Adornos writing practice as enactment of the varied ambitions connoted by the phrase immanent critique, it is with some chagrin that I report that I cannot read Adorno in German without a trot. In writing about Adorno, I have tried to subject knotty passages to readings as detailed as I can make them but which nevertheless do not claim to be offering a specically stylistic response; if I have shied away from quoting the German, it is precisely in order not to seem to make such claims. I have been careful, in the process of composition, to consult the German when it has seemed prudent; and when the German has raised doubts about my argument, I have backed off, or sought a different way of pursuing my point. I am trying to say that I am wary of the pitfalls my poor German lays for me, and have done my cautious best to avoid them. That said, I think that in an increasingly global culture, critical discourse must increasingly relyindeed, it had better admit the extent to which it always has reliedon translations. (Even our most enviably polyglot

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colleaguesGeorge Steiner, Paul de Man, Fredric Jamesonmust rely on translations for the Koran, Orhan Pamuk, Dostoyevsky, The Tale of Genji . . .) And I think it would be a shame if critics stimulated by work from all over the planet felt disqualied from comment on anything in languages in which they lack literary competence. In resolving to write on Adorno, I have had to overcome considerable hesitation, but my keen interest in him, and my conviction that I could illuminate problems that others had overlooked, have obviously gotten the better of my scruples. Immanent critique, then: by this usage, Adorno clearly intends to do more than merely take sides in the long contention over what critique is, or should, or can, be. Rather, he means his own practice to enact a critique of the debate itself, and to model larger possibilities and challenges beyond it. A chronic ambition of critique has been to get outside the critical object, to achieve objectivity about it, or critical distance from it. Both in its Kantian and its Marxist senses, critique has turned on issues of inside/outside; and the pursuit of the inside track has largely belonged to hermeneutic, as opposed to critique. Hermeneutic sanctions the interpreters sympathy, or even identity with the objectprecisely the stance critique rejects as imperiling objectivity. As usual, when confronted with a dichotomy in our cultures way of conceptualizing its problems, Adorno takes the dichotomy itself as an ideological problem or woundhis code word is chorismos (Greek separation)that his own critical labor will attempt to overcome or heal. Hence his immanent critique, which encodes the ambition to get the critical subject inside what we might then no longer so simply be able to call critiques object; Adorno frequently contrasts it with external critique, critique from outside, or even, if rarely, transcendent critique. 2 Adornos most sustained contrast of immanent with transcendent criticism comes in the peroration of the 1949 essay Cultural Criticism and Society (it is this peroration that rises to the climax of To write poetry after Auschwitz is bar2. See especially Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981), 33; and Theodor W. Adorno, Kants Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001), 20. Twice, Adorno characterizes his own work as metacritiquein the subtitle to his book on Husserl (Against Epistemology: A Metacritique), and in the opening section, on Kant, of Part III of Negative Dialectics (A Metacritique of Practical Reason). In both cases, the word amounts to a kind of sarcasm at the expense of philosophical systems founded on the premise that certain problems can be bracketed off from, or declared to be transcendental to, others. Adorno affronts these transcendent critiques by dilating to encompass, and thus reintroduce, all that Husserl and Kant have tried to exclude. In this application, there appears a family resemblance of immanent critique with deconstruction.

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baric): The alternativeseither calling culture as a whole into question from outside under the general notion of ideology, or confronting it with the norms which it itself has crystallizedcannot be accepted by critical theory. To insist on the choice between immanence and transcendence is to revert to the traditional logic criticized in Hegels polemic against Kant. . . . The position transcending culture is in a certain sense presupposed by dialectics as the consciousness which does succumb in advance to the fetishization of the intellectual sphere. Whereas, says Adorno, dialectics means intransigence toward all reication 3in particular, the spurious harmony of what he elsewhere calls, in condemnation of Lukcs, Extorted Reconciliation 4 (observe how, as the passage develops, immanent criticism and dialectics begin to operate as functionally convertible terms): [Immanent criticism] pursues the logic of its aporias, the insolubility of the task itself. In such antinomies criticism perceives those of society. A successful work, according to immanent criticism, is not one which resolves objective contradictions in a spurious harmony, but one which expresses the harmony negatively by embodying the contradictions, . . . in its innermost structure. Confronted with this kind of work, the verdict mere ideology loses its meaning. At the same time, however, immanent criticism holds in evidence that the mind has always been under a spell. On its own it is unable to resolve the contradictions under which it labours. Even the most radical reection of the mind on its own failure is limited by the fact that it remains only reection, without altering the existence to which its failure bears witness. Hence immanent criticism cannot take comfort in its own idea. It can neither be vain enough to believe that it can liberate the mind directly . . . nor nave enough to believe that uninching immersion in the object will inevitably lead to truth by virtue of the logic of things. . . . The less the dialectical method can today presuppose the Hegelian identity of subject and object, the more it is obliged to be mindful of the duality of the moments. . . . The very opposition between knowledge which penetrates from without and that which bores from within becomes suspect to the dialectical method, which sees in it a symptom of precisely that reication which the dialectic is obliged to accuse. . . . No theory, not even that which is true, is safe
3. Adorno, Prisms, 31. 4. Theodor W. Adorno, Notes to Literature, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen, vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 21640.

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from perversion into delusion once it has renounced a spontaneous [i.e., immanent] relation to the object. Dialectics must guard against this no less than against enthrallment in the cultural object. It can subscribe neither to the cult of the mind nor to hatred of it. The dialectical critic of culture must both participate in culture and not participate. Only then does he do justice to his object and to himself.5 If the very opposition between knowledge which penetrates from without and that which bores from within is itself a symptom of the problem, then the logic of that aporia requires a method that aspires to do both, and the insolubility of the task is not its disqualication but an attestation of its necessity. Adornos practice thus assumes for immanent critique burdens both critical and hermeneutic: making each immanent to the other and, at the same time, making each the others critique. And thereby Adorno implies as well an ideological critique of each of critique and of hermeneuticas usually practiced: critiques distance from the object now appears as not an objectivity to be striven for but an alienation to be overcome; while hermeneutics inwardness with the object, attesting the interpreters sympathy with the interpreted text (a motivation extending through belles lettres appreciation back to biblical exegesis), now appears as an ideological entrapment that critique must struggle, however vainly, to breach. (Immanent critique, then, is critique of critique, and not merely in the sense of autocritique.) At stake, needless to say, is not the critics mere decision in advance between two menu items, two kinds of critique, internal and external. Adornos premise is that all critique is from insideinside of history, of economy, of culture, politics, ideology and that external critique is ideologically deluded, or self-blinded, or selftrivializing, if it supposes that it has gotten, or can or should get, outside the determinations of the social. Immanent critique, then, is less a program that critique should aspire to than a predicament that critique must try not to inch from. An immanent critique thus conceived incurs complex burdensand since Adorno resists generalization, let us begin with consideration of a particular instance: a section of Negative Dialectics that proposes an immanent critique of Heideggerian ontology. Adorno concedes that the Spirit in our age has a legitimate ontological need, to which Heidegger and others are offering, so to speak, an imaginary [i.e., ideological] solution. His immanent critique means to interpret the genuine (and symptomatic) need or
5. Adorno, Prisms, 3233.

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problem as well as to expose the ideological mystication of the proposed solution. We have no power over the philosophy of Being if we reject it generally, from outside, instead of taking it on in its own structureturning its own force against it. Thus critique must confront not merely Heideggers own thought movements but all the philosophical concepts and systems that precede and surround Heidegger. The thought movement that congealed in them, Adorno explains, must be reliquied, its validity traced, in repetition. 6 Let us unpack some of this. What is congealed must be reliquied: this guration is frequent in discussions of ideology and reication, and not just in Adorno; indeed, we nd it in Hegel himself. (Observe the contrast with reactionaries, who typically gure the disgraced world as soft or liquid, in need of an order to stiffen or harden it.) Adorno typically gures reication as a hardening or freezing or rigidifying, which a de-reifying critique seeks to undoto soften, thaw, loosen or, in his gure here, reliquify. As a program, however, this is more easily proposed than executed. The critical object must be reliquied, its validity traced, in repetition. Observe rst that this is a critique concerned as much to validate what is valid in its object as to discredit or expose what is not. But the real trouble is repetition, a word in all critical usages (including Adornos) virtually always connoting ideology itself, everything that forecloses the (utopian) promise of future deliverance from the fated repetition of the past. As partor as momentof its effort to reliquify the ideological rigidities it suffers, immanent critique must repeat these rigidities, which is to say, must suffer, indeed, inict, the fate of repetition upon itself deliberately. Adorno is Hegels disciple in holding that the past cannot be merely disowned, or gotten outside of: escaping its cycle of repetition requires a working-through that confronts, immanently, all the horror of what we would escape. So solving a problem requires, rst, the evocation of the problem, in all its problematicalness. We cannot overcome ideology without a full acknowledgmentand more: a full experience, in the writing, in the readingof the power of ideology. As writing, thereforeand Adorno never lets a reader (or a critic) forget that critique is, by reason of its written-ness, ineluctably, a kind of writingcritique must labor as mightily to evoke its object as to sublate or move beyond it. And hence the unhappy consciousness imperative that is palpable in every word Adorno ever wrote. For a dramatic shorthand,
6. Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Continuum, 1973), 97.

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we might call it the after-Auschwitz imperative, keeping in mind that this intellectual-affective imperative of Adornos writing long predates Auschwitz itself. (One way of registering the angst of Dialectic of Enlightenment might be the reminder that the moment of its composition was, literally, duringAuschwitz.) What I am trying to stress here is the place of affect both in Adornos theory of critique and in his practice of it. Adornos insistence on the labor of conceptualization also involves a labor of what I will call here affectualizationthe labor of apprehending our ideological condition not only (to recall Hegel again) as thought but also as feelingwith the caveat that Adorno refuses the conventional antithesis, or as he would rather call it, the ideological chorismos, between concept and affect: he wants (and this, too, is part of the problem his immanent critique means both to repeat and to reliquify, part of the breach he wants to close, the wound he wants to heal, even if doing so must begin by reopening it) to make affects conceptual, and to make the concept affective, to overcome the chorismos by which Enlightenment has, in separating thought from feeling, impoverished both. Only thus can the wound, and the healing (if any: at any rate, the need for it), be made concrete. This ambition puts large demands on the writing of critique: the critic must be a writer of peculiar brilliance to meet them. (This is partly why commentary on Dialectic of Enlightenment discounts the coauthorship of Horkheimer, and so often lapses, faute de mieux, into treating the book as if Adorno were its [sole] author.) It also makes for a nished text that will be peculiarly challenging, peculiarly difcult, for its readera text whose selfconscious expressive difculty is motivated by the historical, cultural, social, and political difculties of its subject matter, difculties it must repeat, must evoke as inescapable preliminary to any other hoped-for transitive (reliquifying) effect upon them. And that imperative, familiar in our period from the great radical innovations of modernism, incurs the dangers that Lukcs reprehends as the ideology of modernism: that to repeat the problem will be merely to replicate it, so that the radical new work will present merely a symptom of the problem rather than a critical negation of it. Hence the subtext, lifelong, of the debates between Lukcs and Adorno over the merits of realism versus modernism. For Lukcs, a Joyce or a Proust is merely an example of bourgeois decadence, not, in any useful way, an anatomist or critic of it. For Adorno, a Kafka or a Beckett has a critical value far outstripping any more conventionally conceived critique, because they make the contemporary predicament and its anguish real, or perhaps we had better say concretethey convey its objectivity. Adorno praises the plays

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of Beckett precisely because they arouse the anxiety that existentialism only talks about 7and they do so without offering any narrative resolution, such as would be, for Lukcs, the sine qua non of any critical prospect of release from the predicaments they portray: the failure of any such enactment is what makes them, for Lukcs, merely symptomatic of the bourgeois ideology, and to that extent, ideological themselves. For Adorno, any such narrative release could be only imaginary release, and hence itself not merely ideological but virtually the epitome of ideology as such. It is not merely that Lukcs and Adorno disagree on what is critical and what is ideological: it is that precisely what determines the question for one determines it the other way for the other. Lukcs cannot have approved of Dialectic of Enlightenmenteither as a set of theses (assuming such could be extorted from its motivatedly anti-thetic prose) or as a piece of rhetoric, or writing. Dialectic of Enlightenment violates the norms established for critique in the century and more preceding it as radically as Ulysses violates the norms of realist ction. It avows a historicizing and dialectical consciousness, but builds itself around binary pairsOdysseus as bourgeois, myth as Enlightenmentthat would seem to be staged as anything but: asserted, rather, as transhistorically or unhistorically homogeneous, as well as equivalent or fungible in a way to eschew the need, even foreclose the possibility, of their dialectical mediation, let alone negation or sublation, altogether. They conjoin historically disjunct pairs but in a way to dispense with, even to preempt or foreclose, any narrative leading from one to the other: conjoin them, that is, in what Adorno elsewhere calls a constellation, a term and practice with obvious afnities to cubist collage, Eisensteins montage, Pounds ideogram, Joyces epiphany, and other modernist devices in which Lukcs sees only symptoms of bourgeois decadence. If Lukcs refrains from spelling this out, a more recent gure, namely Habermas, epigone of the Frankfurt School generally and protg of Adorno in particular, has done something close to it for him. In Lecture V of The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Habermas warns that Dialectic of Enlightenment risks incurring the sin it avowedly condemns, namely, elaborating and enforcing the myth/Enlightenment binary so insistently as to threaten a lapse into a mythic thinking of the very kind the book charges against Enlightenment itself. (Habermas is concerned lest the gains of mo7. Theodor W. Adorno, Notes to Literature, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen, vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), 90.

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dernity be lost in the crossre between antimodern reactionaries on the Right and postmodern radicals on the Left; he more charitably concedes Adorno and Horkheimers commitment to reason in the interviews, roughly contemporaneous with Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, collected as Autonomy and Solidarity.)8 But Habermas argues that to the extent that Enlightenment is critique, Horkheimer and Adorno undercut their own critical project, as well as the modern project at large, and that Dialectic of Enlightenment is therefore entoiled in what Habermas thrice calls a performative contradiction 9a contradiction, he argues, that vitiates the whole project. I am arguing the contrary here, that just this performative contradiction is what gives Dialectic of Enlightenment its force and its weird power. If Habermas puts the stress on the contradiction, I want to put it on the performativity. The point of the performativity is precisely to perform that historically specic contradiction, a contradiction, Adorno would say, not merely incidental to a particular critical rhetoric but a contradiction objectively there in the cultural predicament the critique means, immanently, to take on, to suffer or repeat as well as to negate or reliquify. And an irony, or dialectic, that might seem to vindicate the book against Habermas is that Habermass indictment itself can contrive to do no other than repeat the offense it protestsfor consider: according to Dialectic of Enlightenment, Enlightenment denounces every precedent episteme as myth. Repeating that gesture, Dialectic of Enlightenment denounces Enlightenment as myth. And now, here is Habermas, denouncing Dialectic of Enlightenment as myth (PDM, 125, 127). Habermas usually makes Adorno and Horkheimers unfortunate fall into myth sound unwitting, but not alwaysand indeed, his brief against the paradox of Dialectic of Enlightenment is compounded by the reection that it is not unconscious: Adorno was quite aware of this performative contradiction (PDM, 119). What is further ironic is the question of Habermass own awareness of his own implication in the tangle. It is like an Escher drawing, a fractal-recursive, self-replicating structure into which Habermass reading has conducted itself despite itselfwhich attests that Dialectic of Enlightenment has indeed tapped some objective systemic virus, so to speak, or structural meme, so pervasively active and self8. Jrgen Habermas, Autonomy and Solidarity: Interviews, ed. Peter Dews (London: Verso, 1986), 98, 15455. 9. Jrgen Habermas, Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans. Frederick G. Lawrence (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987), 119, 127, 185; for the same charge leveled at Derrida, see 197. Hereafter, this work is cited parenthetically as PDM.

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activating in the sociocultural DNA of Enlightenmenta.k.a. modernity, late capitalism, the administered worldthat neither Horkheimer and Adornos own critique of Enlightenment nor Habermass critique of their critique can quarantine the infection inside a boundary or secure itself safely outside the zone of contamination. Thus the Horkheimer/Adorno QED: the absence of any way to get outside the ideological dilemmas of Enlightenment and/as myth. Habermas, I should point out, never quite charges mythical thinking, in those words, against Horkheimer and Adorno; rather, he makes the case implicitly, but unmistakably, via a kind of guilt by association, in the section of the essay assimilating Dialectic of Enlightenment to Nietzsches cynical consciousness and his fundamentally aesthetic attitude, by which Habermas means, la Kierkegaard, Nietzsches abrogation from questions of truth or falsity (PDM, 11926). (Compare Habermass opening paragraph, which places Dialectic of Enlightenment among the black books of Nietzsche, de Sade, and other dark writers of the bourgeoisie, such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Mandeville [PDM, 106].) On the truth/falsity score, Habermas scrupulously maintains a distinction between Dialectic of Enlightenment and Nietzsche, but the distinction turns on the paradox produced by the books adherence, cynical consciousness notwithstanding, to the truth-claim: and precisely thata cynical truth-claim is, I take it, what produces the performative contradiction Habermas protests. But even more ironically, the allegedly cynical consciousness of Dialectic of Enlightenmentthe fact that Adorno was quite aware of this performative contradictionwould seem to be, for Habermas, all that can redeem the book from a wholesale lapse into navely mythic thinking. Now I hasten to grant the power of Habermass critique of Dialectic of Enlightenmenthe puts that case as well as it can be putbut: Horkheimer and, especially, Adorno as exemplars of cynical reason? That seems to me a judgment so wrongheaded as to approach the perverse. Peter Sloterdijks diagnosis of Adornos sensitive critique, and his prescription (at need) of a dose of cheekiness, seems to me much closer to the mark; indeed, his formulathat Adorno tried, by a conceptual balancing act, to construe a knowledge that would not be power 10seems to me to capture both the forlornness and the deance of Adornos refusal of every variety of cynical consciousness. Which is to say that Sloterdijks formula praises Adorno rele10. Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, trans. Michael Eldred (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), xxxv.

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vantlyand it is praise, not the cynical unmasking it could be mistaken for. (Compare Lutz Niethammers asperities regarding the will to powerlessness of Adorno and other modern intellectuals.)11 That Sloterdijk himself elects to ght the ght with satire and laughterkynicismrather than, la Adorno, from the position of unhappy consciousness, might be read as variously qualifying his praise, but I do not see how it could be taken to undo it. That Habermas, on the other hand, can nd for Dialectic of Enlightenment no better alternative than the either/or of nave myth versus cynical consciousness, cannot see that the book aspires, quite the reverse of cynically, to open a utopian alternative to that binary, seems to me an index in Habermas of a surprising limitation.12 Pace Habermas, I would put it that Dialectic of Enlightenment s brilliance is to have sustained a fertile and high-voltage rhetoric not despite, but precisely because of, the contradictoriness of what seem initially quite ahistorical, undialectical, even mythical conjunctions. The measure of its success is how effectually it manages to communicate those contradictions. And by communicate I here mean to evoke not the model of transmission of message from sender to receiver but the ambition of the text to make the pain of all this contradiction common, a kind of ideological communion of suffering that, Adorno insinuates, is as close to a binding agent, a legitimate solidarity, as our alienated culture may presently allow us. The need to lend a voice to suffering, as he elsewhere puts it, is the condition of all truth. 13 The level of affectthe after- [or during-] Auschwitz anger and fear that is the specic felt or lived unhappy consciousness of Dialectic of Enlightenmentremains potent throughout, and this affective or moral difculty attests, expresses, the philosophical, political, social, cultural (etc.) difculties the book protests. Dialectic of Enlightenment is a text in which all the different kinds of difculty motivate, indeed, overdetermine each other; hence the difculty of the text is irreducible, and by design: it cannot, it should not,
11. Lutz Niethammer, Posthistoire, trans. Patrick Camiller (New York: Verso, 1992), 13842. 12. For a scathing critique of Habermas on this score, see Robert Hullot-Kentor, Back to Adorno, Telos 81 (1989): 914. If Hullot-Kentor argues that Habermas misses the point of the immanence of Adornos immanent critique, Axel Honneth takes the opposite tack, sidestepping immanent critique altogether to argue for the transcending or disclosing poweri.e., critique of the type Habermas should approveof Dialectic of Enlightenment ; see Axel Honneth, The Possibility of a Disclosing Critique of Society: The Dialectic of Enlightenment in Light of Current Debates in Social Criticism, Constellations 7, no. 1 (2000): 11627. 13. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 1718.

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be rendered lucid by any paraphrase or commentary. And this un-lucidity has the further specic textual effect (or affect) of feeling, in the reading, always a direct function of the general apprehension of contradiction as the motivation of the writing. It is the very point of Adornos immanent critique that we are not merely shown this contradiction or that, but that we feel contradictoriness, feel, indeed, what Adorno elsewhere calls the Objectivity of Contradiction 14 in our very experience of the reading throughout. Contradiction is realized, or concretized, in its very concept, and as feeling: a model of the labor of conceptualization and the labor of affectualization, as well as the chorismos of the ideological will to separate them, to diminish the force, to numb the pain, of eachall concretized or evenwhy not?constellated in the medium of Adornos writing practice. The power and contradictoriness of this effect, or affect, are what entitle Adornos immanent critique to call itself dialectical. In fact, in one place (in his immanent critique of Edmund Husserl), Adorno makes explicit the connectionindeed, the virtual convertibilityof these terms: Dialectics very procedure is immanent critique. It does not so much oppose [Husserlian] phenomenology with a position or model external and alien to phenomenology, as it pushes the phenomenological model, with the latters own force, to where the latter cannot afford to go. Dialectic exacts the truth from it through the confession of its own untruth. 15 Immanent critique, that is, repeats Husserls phenomenological model, and its untruthbut with the effect of not merely repeating the untruth but forcing a critical confession from the untruth itself. The problematic implicit here of the mere repetition of the Husserlian symptom versus its reliquied critical negation is made explicit on a later page: Dialectics is the quest to see the new in the old instead of just the old in the new. As it mediates the new, so it also preserves the old as the mediated. If it were to proceed according to the schema of sheer ow and indiscriminate vitality (Lebendigkeit ), then it would degrade itself to a replica of the amorphous structure of nature, which it should not sanction through mimicry, but surpass through cognition. Dialectic gives its own to the old as reied and consolidated, which dialectic can move only by releasing the force of its own weight. 16 Dialectics, a.k.a. immanent critique, must not sanction through mimicry, but surpass through cognition: this usefully enlarges the repeat and reliquify motif,
14. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 15153. 15. Theodor W. Adorno, Against Epistemology: A Metacritique, trans. Willis Domingo (Oxford: Blackwell, 1982), 5. 16. Adorno, Against Epistemology, 3839.

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but more to my present point is the preemption of the Lukcs complaint in the warning lest critique degrade itself . . . to a replica of . . . nature (this last, the signier here of the naturalizations of the cultural that are the specic work and effect of ideology as such, the mystifying will to sanction through mimicry). The point I want to bring outand it is a cautionary oneis the liability of immanent [or dialectical] critique to such dangers: because it must repeat in order to reliquify or surpass, it must perforce risk approaching a replica[tion] or mimicry of its ideological object. It must risk appearing as an example or symptom, as Lukcs charged, or as itself mythical, as Habermas warned. It cannot contest what Dialectic of Enlightenment calls the power of repetition over reality 17 without risking the danger of succumbing to it, or at least of appearing to. Which, for critique as a kind of writing, means something in the realm of the critical like the property the German philosophical tradition ambiguously or polysemously denominates, in the realm of the aesthetic, as Schein appearance or illusion: the artful contrivance, variously concealing its own art or, in modern times, more critically baring its own device(s), whereby any composition, whether of art or of critique, hesitates between the aesthetic as ideology and (Adornos burden in Aesthetic Theory) the aesthetic as bearer of truth. So immanent critique must pursue, in the writing, and less as prescription than as inevitable burden, a strategy of something like what Dialectic of Enlightenment seems to indict: mimesis. This word signals one of the most unstable, most conictedwhy not say most dialectical?motifs in the book.18 For most of us, the words primary association will probably be with Aristotles Poeticsthe mirror held up to naturebut this is an association Dialectic of Enlightenment studiously avoids. In the Horkheimer/Adorno text, mimesis is primarily a synecdoche for the mythic and even premythic habitus of archaic consciousness and the proto-Enlightenment attempt, at rst to propitiate nature, then to dominate it, by means of sympathetic magic. (This context, opening Aristotles mimesis to its archaic foretime, can quite eclipse its sequels in the more familiar and more recent cultural past of Europe, and, indeed, I suspect Horkheimer and Adorno mean to estrange or defamiliarize those meanings, so complicit in the ideology of the aesthetic in the West, and thereby to expose the degree to which West17. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1988), 12. 18. For the most interesting discussion of Adornos mimesis I know, see Fredric Jameson, Late Marxism (London and New York: Verso, 1990), 6369, 1015. See also HullotKentor, Introduction to Adornos Idea of Natural History, 1078.

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ern aesthetics, having retrojected its own detached, alienated, enlightened, instrumentalized purposesthe emotional self-management of catharsisback on Aristotle, has distorted its reading of him ever since.) Mimesis thus reoriented to the consciousness of before Aristotlethat is, to the thematics evoked in Dialectic of Enlightenment by way of such terms as [sympathetic] magic, ritual, myth, as well as mimesis itself, and via allusion, to the gure of Odysseus and the Sirenssummarizes a complex of devices and practices, indeed ruses, akin to the Nietzschean imaginary and to the Marxist and modernist senses of ideology. To that extent, mimesis would seem to gure as a virtual epitome of what immanent critique aims to subvert. But as we have seen, immanent critique itself must repeat its object, must incur the risk of replicating it or mimicking itand to that extent, mimesis is critiques own most potent, if also most treacherous, device: indeed, the potency and the treachery must be its very condition. If ideological mimesis is the problem or danger, the solution or program involves a mimesis that I will here call dialectical in justication of which I might cite the analogy with Benjamins usage of image and, or against, dialectical image, a usage Adorno expounds in numerous places.19 With Sloterdijk again in mind, we might say that dialectical mimesis enacts a kind of satirical parody, but with affects of angst and rage rather than the Sloterdijkian cynical or cheeky (Bergsonian) laughter of mockery. (Readers familiar with Michael Cahns rich essay Subversive Mimesis will recognize a family resemblance between his refunctioning of Adornos mimesis and mine here.20 Cahn pursues the argument with much more grounding in and reference to philosophy than I could do, and his discussion aims to illuminate Adornos aesthetic theoryor indeed his Aesthetic Theoryrather than, as I hope to do here, Adornos writing practice and the difculties it poses for readers.) My suggestion now is that we take Dialectic of Enlightenment itself as a test or probe of this dialectical mimesis I am proposing. We may take the book as a kind of historical narrative, and therefore, like (presumably) any historical analysis or explanation, to that extent a dialectical mimesis of Western history or civilization itself. But a more concrete grasp of the texts
19. For our present point, see especially Theodor W. Adorno, Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 54. 20. Michael Cahn, Subversive Mimesis: Theodor W. Adorno and the Modern Impasse of Critique, in Mimesis in Contemporary Theory, ed. Mihai Spariosu, vol. 1 (Philadelphia and Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1984), 2764.

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ambitions may be allowed by considering its relation to a precedent textualization of that ambitionand it is my suggestion here that we consider Dialectic of Enlightenment for a moment as if it were a parodic rescript of Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit. Notice I said as ifor I might use the old Hegelian/Marxist (and Adorno) word, objectively : the point being that the resonances are signicant, whether Adorno and Horkheimer intended them or not, although I will go on the record with my conviction that they did. However that may be, the resonances are there, simply as part of the vast social and historical fact Horkheimer and Adorno mean to confrontwhich turns out to entail, besides Hegel himself, the whole debased Hegelian aftermath in the conventions or ideology of historicist explanation in the bourgeois age, from fascisms reactionary fantasias of racialist agon, through the progressive or meliorist story of liberalism, to its revolutionary variants extending to ofcial Soviet orthodoxies of dialectical materialism (diamat, in the neologistic party-speak Adorno so loathed) and the providential historical happy endings they were fashioned to underwrite. The afnities of Dialectic of Enlightenment with Phenomenology of Spirit are numerous and suggestive. Both books were written in a moment of crisis perceived by their authors as world-historical, and both aim to diagnose and even to prescribe for the cultural pathologies, extending back into an immemorial foretime, of their respective cultural moments. The table of contents of Dialectic of Enlightenment discloses a narrative and historical arc broadly similar to Hegels, orchestrating a passage from Greek antiquity to the period of the Enlightenment proper, and thence to the present-day moment at the height of World War II in which Horkheimer and Adorno are writing. This historicizing organization, the antique and modern instances chosen for elaboration, and the proportions allotted to them, all invite us to take Dialectic of Enlightenment as a production, albeit on a smaller scale, on the model of Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit. Horkheimer and Adorno renew Hegels terminology and supplement it with newer onesMarxist, Nietzschean, Weberian, Freudianthat have emerged since Hegel; but their account of the devolution of philosophy into a mere handmaiden of (positivist) science, and the attendant reication of thinking as instrumentalized to serve the purposes of scientic and technological rationalization, is recognizably a continuation of Hegels story, although, of course, an ironic one: a nightmare sequel to an overture (a terminal overture, Hegel had supposed) that, in Hegels enthusiastic afatus, had promised a considerably happier nale. Indeed, this issueoptimism versus pessimism was the mid-century toposmarks the fundamental dissent or contradic-

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tion or negation that Horkheimer and Adornos unhappy [critical] consciousness operates on Hegel. Hegel diagnosed unhappy consciousness and prescribed for it in ways anticipating the morale-management counsels of Nietzsche and William James, in the faith that modernity would eventually enable a universal happy consciousness. The textual effect or affect of Dialectic of Enlightenment joins the darker tone of Sigmund Freud, Oswald Spengler, Thomas Mann, T. S. Eliot, and many other moderns whose drift, especially post-1914, is that the current situation and prospects are grim. (Dialectic of Enlightenment thereby not only contravenes the bien-pensant liberal hopes of the day but dees the ofcial party-line optimism of the Soviet bloc, the Stalinist Comintern of that period, in which defeatism could be a capital [thought-] crime.) But Dialectic of Enlightenment enacts a more corrosive dialectical mimesis of Hegel-and-after on the level of narrative itself. The book organizes its argument around binary pairs that link disjunct historical phenomenamost saliently, myth/Enlightenment and Odysseus/bourgeois. These binaries initially seem the conventional constituents of a familiar modernizing historicism, but they turn out to act in the book not as opposed (historical) pairs but as virtual transhistorical equations or (to make the ideological baggage more explicit) identities: in the latter instance, exposing nineteenth-century philologys fetishization of the Homeric protagonist as universal hero; in the former, deconstructing (if youll permit the anachronism) the binary terms of Enlightenments own self-constituting ancients/moderns narrative. Both work to activate the downside, as it were, of equivalence or exchange logic: in the one case, offering a dialectical image/mimesis of the equivalence that bourgeois modernity wants to embrace; in the second, enforcing an equivalence it seeks to disown. And in both cases, and in many other instances passim, we get not the historical narrative that mediates the development from one to the other but a sequence of nonnarrative juxtapositionswhat Adorno probably learned from Benjamin to call constellationsenforcing the point that the narrative of progress has not only stalled but now (1944) looks to have been a deception or ruse of history all along, insofar as it has masked historys chronic steady-state or (the same thing?) cycle of repetition, blocking our recognition that the history we are living out is not a narrative of progress, reason, and freedom, but a stasis, or even a regress, of violence and domination. Recall here Benjamins aphorism that every document of civilization is also a document of barbarism. In Dialectic of Enlightenment, the progressive world story becomes the failure of the narrative to realize not only its

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thematic or programmatic telos, human liberation, but, more fundamentally, its generic or formal constitutive sine qua non, narrativity itself. J. M. Bernstein coolly scorns this way of reading Dialectic of Enlightenment, summoning earlier scholars, from Susan Buck-Morss to Robert Hullot-Kentor, to his aid, citing, however, passages that do not, at least to my reading eye, quite make his case for him.21 Bernstein wants to see the critical force of Dialectic of Enlightenment as trained not on Enlightenments historicist narrative investments but rather on the conceptual dualism underlying themand to that extent his reading can be brought to square with mine. Where Bernstein seems to me to misplace the emphasis is in the assumption that in the face of an apparent dichotomy in Adorno, a readers task is to decide on one side or the other; my own experience learning to read Adorno is that he is almost always looking for ways to reinforce the dichotomy, to exploit its dichotomousnessits contradictorinessto critical (i.e., dialectical) effect. I would, rather, put it that Dialectic of Enlightenment expresses its critique of the Wests detemporalized, nonnarrative, conceptual dualism by deconcealing the petrication or standstill that dualism wreaks on its own narrative categories: that in Adorno, the horns of the dichotomy are mobilized precisely in order to im -mobilize each other, to perform the ways in which our cultures fundamental contradictions, and their ideological denial, can disclose themselves only in the conditionor the dialectical mimesisof dialectic at a standstill: conceptual dualities arresting, freezing, petrifying the very narrative progress and movement they were meant to release. Dialectic at a standstill: that watchword of Benjamins is often cited by Adorno as evocation of the modern conditionand hence another motivation for the failed narrativity of Dialectic of Enlightenment, as dialectical mimesis of the stalled or arrested dialectic of history itself. Recall, to begin with, that in Hegel, dialectic is ineluctably temporalized, historicized, narrativized. Hence a (large) degree of commutativity between narrative and dialectic in the ideological constellation Dialectic of Enlightenment constructs: if the Enlightenment narrative is rendered non- or even antinarratively, the conventions of dialectic are likewise contravened in usages provocatively non- or antidialectical. If binaries like myth/Enlightenment or Odysseus/bourgeois elide narrativity and history, they equally elide dialectic, for the conjoined terms are rather identied than mediated, dedifferentiated as we now say, as if the point is their essential homogeneity
21. Bernstein, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, 8486; see esp. 86n18.

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rather than their qualitative, mutually negating differences. And likewise for the other kind of binary the book mobilizes, the kind that conjoins contemporaneous pairs, like de Sade and Kant, or anti-Semitism and Hollywood. In our present-day academic subculture, this would already be a politically incorrect enough way of putting it; in 1944, with Stalins assassins patrolling the globe for class enemies, it was a provocation of potentially dire consequence (recall the fate of Trotsky [August 1940] just a few years before the publication of Dialectic of Enlightenment [May 1944]). Part of my point in summarizing the aims of Dialectic of Enlightenment in these terms is to foreground how very different is Horkheimer and Adornos (in)version of Hegel from Marxs. Marx claimed to have turned Hegel right-side up, putting his idealist headstand squarely back where it belongs, on its materialist feetbut Marxs gure owns that he and Hegel are talking about the same biped, and the same conguration of posture (vertical) and mobility (ambulatory). In Marx, as in Hegel, we have a forwardmoving story, an indisputably narrative dynamic; the coloration of particular episodes and themes varies between the twothe story of alienation, of Aufhebung, of human beings rendered thing-like, but achieving the selfconsciousness of the fr Sich in the endbut the happiness of the providential ending and the kinetic momentum of the whole progress to it are macrofeatures that Hegel and Marx have too much in common to allow them to appear as anything other than variants of a shared set of themes and (more fundamentally) of presuppositions regarding the use of historical narrative in works of social interpretation, explanation, diagnosis, and critique. Dialectic of Enlightenment asserts its own place in the array by way of a much more radical refunctioning of its terms and its operationsmost tellingly, in the extent to which the Horkheimer/Adorno retelling of the Enlightenment/Hegelian/Marxist metanarrative is so little narrative in its effect. Granted Marxs boast, that he had inverted Hegels story (stood it on its head/feet), he still narrated it according to storytelling conventions recognizably of the same type, bearing marked family resemblances, to Hegels own. Horkheimer and Adornos narrative is much more ambiguously narrative; it does not so much tell the story as elaborate chosen moments or images (dialectical images?) from it; it presupposes the readers knowledge of the storys basic narrative, and turns the energy thus released from narration to eliciting resonances and potencies undeveloped in the narratives earlier versions. Though the narrative interest of the precedent story necessarily prolongs itself in Dialectic of Enlightenment, the narrative impulse is clearly subordinate to the interpretive; and to that extent the book stands to

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Hegel-and-Marx in a relation in some ways like that of Midrash to Torah. But that analogy needs qualication, to the extent that both scripture and commentary minimize affect: the biblical narratives are terse as if precisely to purge affective or aesthetic power, textual effect or affect. (On the theory that the Torah narratives are prose synopses of originally much longer, and more libidinally invested, oral narratives, intended precisely to deprive those bardic narratives of the affective power pagans associated with divine inspiration [the Muses], we might speculate that biblical narratives estrangements of narrative effects or affects anticipate the Republic s expulsion of the poets.) By contrast, the affective program I have ascribed to Horkheimer and Adorno here, to arouse Enlightenment to its chronically suppressed fear, to disturb Enlightenments tranquility of mind, to arouse Enlightenments bad conscience, adds to the mode of Midrashic exposition an emotionalism, a labor of affectualization, absent in the precursor text(s); here the analogy that comes to mind is Aeschyluss sensationalizing reconstitution of Homeric epos, in which the familiar epic story need not be retold the audience already knows the plotso that the hypnagogic work of the choral song can concentrate instead on a stroboscopic activation of the storys most horric associations, as when the Chorus in the Agamemnon is beset by images from the curse-of-Atreus story (a boiling pot of infant limbs! a mighty eet becalmed at sea! a princesss lovely neck bared to the sacricial knife!) so elliptically, but also so obsessively, as to motivate the elision of their collectively known narrative context as a collective effort to repress collective anxieties that are recurring with the force of nightmare. (Compare the similar impulse in a more contemporary instance, Christopher Logues operatic workouts on the Iliad.) The nobility of the Homeric grand style, idealized since antiquity, has much to do with what Horkheimer and Adorno indict as its narrative composure;22 Aeschyluss rescript (and Logues) represses the narrative the better to distill from its imageries the panic Homers composure composesand however deliberately, Horkheimer and Adorno seem to me to stand in some such relation to Hegel, or at least to that side of him they most deplore, his Panglossian, happy-consciousness, theodicy-mongering optimism. The intrusion, into the quasi- or even mock-Hegelian habitus of Dialectic of Enlightenment, of de Sade and Nietzsche, anti-Semitism and Hollywood, motivates this gesture.
22. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 7880.

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In doing so (again), Dialectic of Enlightenment projects a panorama of catastrophe that mobilizes Marx as readily as Hegel, and without mitigating the force of its anti-Enlightenment indictments against either. But particular or party ideological provocations aside, Dialectic of Enlightenment means to present a vision of global cultural catastrophe that challenges the competing received partisan scenarios. It is addressed to readers of good willat least, potentially, of all ideological stripes. To loyal communists, it says that their party-line optimism is fraudulent, that the revolution under Stalin partakes of a barbarism every bit as savage as the alternatives. To right-wingers short of outright fascism, conservatives like, say, Spengler, it offers something like a dialectical mimesis of The Decline of the West, but one in which the catastrophe appears as present, not future, and is attended by anguish rather than the paradoxically anodyne knowingness typical of early-modern cultural despair reactionaries of the Spengler type. Most complicatedly, it addresses liberals and non-Stalinist leftists, inheritors and stewards of the Enlightenment tradition, whose received view of the catastrophethat the bad guys, the forces of darkness, are winningthey affront by diagnosing the failures and shortcomings of the good guys themselves, of Enlightenment itself. In their account of Enlightenments devolution or regression into barbarism, via positivism, scientism, identity-thinking, antitheorism, and literal-mindedness of all kinds, they enact the failure of the Enlightenment narrative not only to achieve its narrative telos but also to maintain its dialectical ethoswhether or not it is still telling itself that progressive or revolutionary story, or (as in the USSR) fetishizing the word dialectic itself. They narrate the failure of the Enlightenment narrative to achieve narrativity, as well as the failure of Enlightenment dialectic to be dialectical. As if dialectic itself could be subject to negationand not determinate negation, the kind that alters quality, but an annihilation, that is reduction ad nihil, to zero, that, in the terms of Horkheimer and Adornos indictment of Enlightenment, liquidates quality altogether, and therefore dialectic itself, leaving only the bad innity of the merely quantitative, the domain in which the logic of equivalence/exchange has its limited but lethal validity. This, as Dialectic of Enlightenment projects it, is the irony, or indeed the peculiar dialectic, of the dialectic of Enlightenment. Horkheimer and Adornos evocation of the failure is the most potent such book of the mid-century period, a period peculiarly rich in efforts at cultural diagnosisand I include here everything from prewar works such as Freuds Civilization and Its Discontents and Spenglers Decline of the West to such postwar productions as Norman O. Browns Life Against

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Death, Herbert Marcuses Eros and Civilization, and Erich Fromms Flight from Freedom. Dialectic of Enlightenment remains an epitome of critical unhappy consciousness, fully answering to the angst, rage, and despair of the during-Auschwitz ordeal and, prophetically, to the after-Auschwitz prolongation, in which the fact that the killing at Auschwitz had ceased offered so little comfort in view of the prospect of global murder opened by the nuclear attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the 1944 introduction, Horkheimer and Adorno explain that all rhetorics of afrmation are by now so compromised as to make afrmation itself a liea premise that all but forecloses any possibility of the utopian in the book itself. Yet the book has its hints of utopian hopea hope indissociable from a sense of the dialectic simply as the historically unforeseeable but capable of horror as well as blessings: not at all the providential stand-in for God, deus ex machina all too familiarized in progressive and revolutionary storytelling. Against all optimisms from Hegel to Stalin and beyond, Horkheimer and Adorno deconceal a historical dialectic leading to catastrophe rather than reconciliation, an Absolute of despair rather than exaltation, a Golgotha of the Spirit or slaughterbench of history more literal and more atrocious than any Hegel could ever have imagined, projected indeed as the apparent liquidation of dialectic itself. This is, in 1944, the lookthe dialectical mimesisof the dialectic very specically of Enlightenment.