Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment laid indispensable groundwork for critiquing instrumental rationality and the power dynamics embedded in discursive logic. Especially relevant for feminist theorists is the pair’s excursus on Homer’s Odyssey, which reads the hero’s epic journey as an allegory for the emergence of subjectivity. Horkheimer and Adorno interpret Homer’s female characters as sensual forces of nature that Odysseus must resist in his quest for homecoming. Yet, conspicuously absent from Horkheimer and Adorno’s analysis—and previous feminist commentaries on their analysis—is Homer’s paragon of feminine sensuality: Helen of Argos and Troy. This article rereads the treacherous beauty through Horkheimer and Adorno’s critical perspective, arguing that despite Helen’s exclusion from the text of Dialectic of Enlightenment, she is central to its thesis. As much as the poem’s eponymous hero, Helen exhibits the incipient features of an individuated (and alienated) protobourgeois subject. Ultimately, this article contends that Horkheimer and Adorno undertheorize women’s experience of subjectivity, which seems to explain why they exclude Helen from their analysis.
Seductress, Storyteller, and Subject: Helen of Argos and the “Feminine” Complex of Dialectic of Enlightenment
Katherine C. Bermingham; Seductress, Storyteller, and Subject: Helen of Argos and the “Feminine” Complex of Dialectic of Enlightenment. New German Critique 1 February 2018; 45 (1 (133)): 155–179. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-4269886
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