In Negative Dialectics Theodor W. Adorno attempts to work through the death of aura. Drawing on G. W. F. Hegel's account of the “beautiful soul” from the Phenomenology of Spirit and Robert Pippin's account of “modern melancholia” in Friedrich Nietzsche, I interpret these attempts in terms of a melancholic resistance of meaning. But I suggest that this resistance can be construed in terms of Adorno's and Walter Benjamin's readings of analogous resistance in Charles Baudelaire's poetry, which restages the social destruction of the subject as a socially normative “poetic event” unto itself. Paradoxically, such events are obscured in J. M. Bernstein's account, in Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, of Adorno's “exemplary first-person experience” of unredeemable guilt after Auschwitz. Fredric Jameson's Late Marxism argues from an opposing perspective to a similar effect, construing negative dialectics as foreshadowing “the obliteration” of “the modern itself,” as ushering in a distinctly post-modern condition. Using antithetical lines of argument, Bernstein and Jameson implicitly deny that the experience of radical loss can be expressed in a socially normative way: Bernstein by endowing the experience with incommunicable depth in the manner of melancholic narcissism, and Jameson by discounting experience and loss per se. In contrast to the Benjaminian reading of Adorno that I propose, the mutually opposed readings by Bernstein and Jameson commonly argue past Adorno: they eclipse the “event” of subjective destruction enacted by Adorno's text because they reduce the latter to the symptoms of a loss that defies expression as a matter of principle.
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Research Article| August 01 2008
Bo Earle; Putting the Dialectic back in Negative Dialectics: Modern Melancholia and Adornian Ethical Aesthetics. New German Critique 1 August 2008; 35 (2 (104)): 33–53. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-2008-002
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