In 1959 Theodor W. Adorno asked, “What does working through the past mean?” Post–World War II German society and much of Western Europe was in the full throttle of the economic miracle and bent on normalizing the present by suppressing the Nazi past and the Holocaust. Adorno’s diagnosis brings together an analysis of the unprecedented postwar prosperity, forms of evasive historical thinking, and the persistence of racialized violence. This essay turns to Adorno to grapple with catastrophe of another, historically continuous order: the crisis of climate change, the persistent racialization of environmental harm, and the question of the future on a warming planet as vividly described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2022 report. The late 1950s matters to the history of the Holocaust and its connections to the experience of prosperity in the postwar period. The European and US economic boom in the 1950s also marks the onset of the Great Acceleration and, by some accounts, the beginning of the Anthropocene and its claims on the future. Prompted by Adorno, this essay asks: What does working through this future mean? How does Adorno’s essay speak to us today?

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