This article revisits the original meaning of “spiritual” as distinct from “intellectual” experience in Theodor W. Adorno’s late work. It does so through the implicitly Hegelian motifs in Wassily Kandinsky’s manifesto “On the Spiritual in Art,” a text that Adorno engages in passing in his Aesthetic Theory and that was, in turn, deeply influenced by the thought of Kandinsky’s nephew Alexandre Kojève, who also wrote an essay on his uncle’s paintings. This genealogy of motifs is of more than mere historical and anecdotal significance. At stake is nothing less than an accurate understanding of “spiritual experience [geistige Erfahrung]” as a more than merely theoretical matrix for what Adorno, in Negative Dialectics and the lecture courses, calls his materials studies. Rather than indicating largely esoteric or theosophical elements in Kandinsky’s influence on modernist aesthetic discourse, “spiritual experience,” in part read through the eyes of Kojève and, via him, Vladimir Soloviev, is thereby distinguished from what Adorno sees as an irrepressible tendency toward “spiritualization” in contemporary culture and the philosophy that reflects on it. Instead, it reveals a dimension of depth that the reception of Critical Theory has all too often ignored or disparaged.

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