From a Melancholy Science to a Negative Diale(c)t(h)ics

Everyone will agree that it is of the highest importance to know whether we are not duped by morality. Emmanuel Levinas—Totality and Infinity


It is a question of attaining this will that the event creates in us…It is a question of becoming a citizen of the world—Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sense [1]

From a Melancholy Science towards a Negative Diale(c)t(h)ics

Adorno’s ethics is a “melancholy science” because it has grown weary of the subject. In other words, Adorno’s ethics is both pessimistic and antagonistic because it aims to critique the processes of subjectification which the dominant society (re)produces. On the one hand, Adorno analyzes the principium individuationis of modern society, but on the other he does not subsume it to a dialectic which would lay claim to totality through a unifying principle of identity. Yet Adorno’s critique of modes of subjectification and individuation are always brought back to the society through which they are socially and economically determined. This is what allows his ethics the means to sharpen its critical edge. The main thrust of this ethics is to assert a radical critique of the substantiality of the subject and to fully do away with the absolute, constitutive nature of the self [2] founded upon a transcendent God [3]. In following this critique through its development in a negative dialectic, we will say that Adorno’s analyses constitute a minor ethics because they submit the major mode to a critique that attempts to dislodge the dominant image of thought [4] from its normative pretensions.

From Aristotelian Neurosis to Adornian Manic-Depression

Adorno’s first suspicion against modern society that we should identify is his fear of the dominance of normality. He writes, “No science has yet explored the inferno in which were forged the deformations that later emerge to daylight as cheerfulness, openness, sociability, successful adaptation to the inevitable, an equable, practical frame of mind.” (Minima Moralia, 59). Adorno might call this science “the psychoanalysis of proto-typical culture” (58). But Adorno, like Deleuze, identifies this movement of normality in thought itself. In his section “For Post-Socratics,” Adorno argues that the wish to be write in argumentation derives from the “spirit of self-preservation which philosophy is precisely concerned to break down” (44). He argues that this naivety is founded on agreement between minds able to communicate, “and thus on complete conformism” (44). On the other hand, Adorno urges us to lose an argument in such a way as to convict the opponent of untruth. This is precisely the dialectical thrust of a minor ethics: its dialectical reason, when set against the dominant mode of reason, is unreasonable (45). For Adorno, “The dialectician’s duty is thus to help this fool’s truth to attain its own reasons, without which it will certainly succumb to the abyss of the sickness implacably dictated by the healthy common sense of the rest” (45). In terms of the situation then, a minor ethics would appear irrational until the point at which it encompasses and cancels the mediocre/major mode. It therefore proposes an anti-Statist thought because it is not rendered homogeneous within a larger totality—its negativity remains as a residue which constantly thwarts the identity of any given power center, in other words, its negentropy (which can be quantified positively).
Adorno’s Minima Moralia could very well be aimed antagonistically at Aristotle’s “speculations” on happiness (Adorno’s Minima against Aristotle’s [5] Magna, how is Aristotle submitted to Adorno’s dialectic?), inverting them theoretically: “Psycho-analysis prides itself on restoring the capacity for pleasure, which is impaired by neurotic illness. As if the mere concept of a capacity for pleasure did not suffice gravely to devalue such a thing, if it exists. As if a happiness gained through speculation on happiness were not the opposite, a further encroachment of institutionally planned behavior-patterns on the ever-diminishing sphere of experience” (62). It is almost as though Aristotle could be the spokesperson for an overarching social super-ego [6] constantly imploring us to augment our virtue through pleasures guaranteed by the dominant middle-way. Indeed, not because Aristotle has psychoanalytic tendencies, quite the contrary: but precisely because the “authority” of the Nicomachean Ethics is so widespread and imperialistic that it most undoubtedly helped conspire with the development of Christian morality through the painstaking attempts taken by medieval scholars to synthesize doctrine with Aristotelian logic (guaranteeing the consistency of the social domination of desire due to its rigorous reliance on common sense). But the question becomes—doesn’t psychoanalysis equally produce its “virtues” to be followed precisely in its promise of resituating the subject for this better capacity? In effect, doesn’t the psychoanalytic “cure” of the normal-neurotic precisely mirror the Aristotelian virtuous type whose excellence must guarantee his happiness through the mediocritization of his desire? Isn’t there some sort of bizarre mathematical formula at work here that would stipulate that there is an inverse proportion between the capacity of/for desire and the capacity for pleasure? In other words, doesn’t the psychoanalyst and the Aristotelian at bottom believe that by reducing the subject’s continuum of desire (castrating it to the middle-of-the-road, normal-neurotic type), one’s capacity for pleasure can then be increased because of a gradual diminishment in lowered expectations, an impoverishment of the imagination of different possible worlds through various potential means, the acceleration of alienating mechanisms that overcode desire according to binary relations (which on a more fundamental level accord with a “politics” of how the socius is to be arranged and organized)?
But this does not yet answer the question of Adorno’s relation to Aristotle. Let us suppose that Adorno’s Minima is the minor mode of morality against Aristotle’s Magna, the major mode. Also, Adorno’s dialectic is a minor mode because by refusing to completely sublimate the individual into the universal, by asserting the residual negativity of the individual in every use of the dialectic, he forces ethics to enter into a state of dynamic disequilibrium which escapes the logic of constants established from predetermined binary oppositions. A minor ethics is suspicious of the common solutions proposed by the major mode. In effect, it is a teleological suspension of the ethical as such, for the minor mode is completely foreign and incomprehensible to the logic of the situation.
To get closer to the heart of the dominant, major mode of ethics, let us take a look at a passage from Aristotle’s Magna Moralia: “Being happy, then, and happiness, consist in living well, and living well is living in accordance with the excellences. This, then, is the end and happiness and the best thing…Happiness therefore will consist in living in accordance with the excellences. Since then the best good is happiness, and this is the end, and the complete end is an activity, it follows that it is by living in accordance with the excellences that we shall be happy and shall have the best good” (Book I:4, 1184b). Adorno knows this mode all too well: the reduction of man to things, desires to ends which are deemed good—happiness—because they do not threaten the social order. The pure reason of virtues and excellences treats subjects as so many “loci of modes of behavior [7].” Aristotle’s Magna Moralia is an investigation into character and its corresponding essence in the virtues or excellences. Aristotle even etymologically provides clues for his reasoning: “‘Character[8]’ (aethos) derives from ‘custom’ (ethos); for it is called moral (ethike)” (I:6, 1185b). In the major mode of ethics, one’s character is guaranteed by the impositions of custom through moral education. The minor mode is not anti-ethical as such, though it may seem that way to the dominant mode. Instead, one aspect of the minor mode calls for a teleological suspension of the major in order to wager on what the ethical will have been. Another side of it is more oppositional: perform a genealogy of morality, suspend it to examine it transcendentally, ask for the conditions of possibility for this character and what assemblages are necessary for the technics of this custom, etc. The terms seem to change as the dialectic progresses, for now we move into questions of identity [9] (the mechanisms for deploying redundancy) and freedom (the coercive social mechanisms of civilization and/or lines of flight that thwart identity through the minor mode of a negative dialectic).

From Negative Dialectics to Minor Ethics

To help establish the conceptual framework of a minor ethics, it would be helpful to take a detour through Adorno’s critique of identity in Negative Dialectics. The negativity of Adorno’s dialectic asserts a liberation from the equation that produces a positivity from the negation of a negation [10]. The principle behind this insistence of negativity resides in Adorno’s maneuver to substitute “for the unity principle, and for the paramountcy of the supra-ordinated concept, the idea of what would be outside the sway of such unity” (xx). In this sense, negative dialectics bases its movement on a critique of identity [11].
The critique of identity, however, is inseparable from the development of a meta-modelization of the dominant image of thought [12]. This is because Adorno stresses that thinking is identifying, that identity is inherent in thought itself (5). On the other hand, dialectics is the consistent sense of nonidentity, so much so that “Contradiction is nonidentity under the aspect of identity; the dialectical primary of the principle of contradiction makes the thought of unity the measure of heterogeneity” (5). However, in his objections to traditional dialectics, Adorno argues that if dialectics reduces everything to contradiction, “the full diversity of the noncontradictory, of that which is simply differentiated, will be ignored” (5). It is only because of the dominance of identity and the drive towards unity and totality—the structure of a certain image of thought—that all that is differentiated [13] becomes demoted into what is divergent, dissonant, and negative.
Negative dialectics strives to reconcile the nonidentical without submitting it to the positivity of a sublimated totality. In another sense, Adorno conceives this as the movement whereby concepts can transcend the nonconceptual [14] : “But whatever truth the concepts cover beyond their abstract range can have no other stage than what the concepts suppress, disparage, and discard. The cognitive utopia would be to use concepts to unseal the nonconceptual with concepts, without making it their equal” (10). In its reflections on utopia, negative dialectics “is the ontology of the wrong state of things” (11). A minor ethics based on negative dialectics calls into question a totality which would claim accrue in a positive aggregate. Thus it denounces the positive, bad infinity of a static identity resulting from the imposition of systems of homogeneity. These “systems” extend to States and other power centers in general which can only be defined on their resistance against allowing flows to escape, that is, allowing the nonidentical to proliferate without a supplementary, unifying principle. In turning to psychoanalysis, we can see that Adorno’s negative dialectics extends to the critique of the positivity of rational modes of attaining happiness, that is, virtue.

The Psychoanalysis of Broken Desires

As the projected science of the subject, psychoanalysis positioned itself at the turn of the 20th century both as a liberating investigation of the sources of repression and as a reinforcement of those very sources of domination. Adorno devotes at least 5 of his aphorisms in the first part of Minima Moralia to questions specifically addressing the psychoanalytical promotion of a certain type of sickness all the more difficult to uproot and identify because it takes on the guise of the health of the normal. Unfortunately, the ethics of Freudian psychoanalysis has always been subservient to a particular view of the good citizen, the good society, and thus to a certain type of political aspiration. Due to Adorno’s “melancholy science” which investigates the plight of the individual, it might be useful to analyze what follows from the fact that Freud “takes over the antithesis of social and egoistic, statically, without testing it…Or rather, he vaciallates…between negating the renunciation of instinct as repression contrary to reality, and applauding its sublimation as beneficial to culture” (37).
Adorno specifies that it is not Freud’s lack of warmth that is symptomatic of his repressive traits, but the fact that after tracing conscious actions back to an unconscious basis, Freud still “concurred with the bourgeois contempt of instinct which is itself a product of precisely the rationalizations that he dismantled.” This is what leads Freud to oppose sexual goals as selfish against social ones (in particular, this would be to ignore the role of reproduction—which does not mean that sexuality is more social than individual but that it shares social goals (maintaining the species) and individual ones (pleasure, shared intimacy, expression of love, etc.). By relegating sexuality to individual drives which must be sublimated in order to become socially redeemable, Freud reproduces the double bind of the bourgeois order which simultaneously urges us to enjoy while rejecting all signs of enjoyment as tactless and not polite to bring out in the light. Denigrating the sexual and obscuring the social, Adorno argues that Freud “stands ambivalently between desire for the open emancipation of the oppressed, and apology for open oppression.”
How does this double bind come to be manifested? To simplify somewhat on Adorno’s argument, Freud reduces reason to rationalization insofar as he rejects the end of sexuality (pleasure) which alones proves the means (reason) reasonable. Thus, pleasure becomes a “trick for preserving the species” and ultimately resembles a cunning form of reason, a rationalization. Adorno sees this as a false dialectical conclusion because Freud does not take account of the moment in which pleasure “transcends its subservience to nature.” Yet the conclusion nonetheless takes hold and truth becomes effectively relativized at the same time as individuals are left defenseless to dominant power formations.
The aporia continues further in Adorno’s next section where he begins by stating “Psychoanalysis prides itself on restoring the capacity for pleasure, which is impaired by neurotic illness” (38). Adorno finds it astonishing that a discourse on happiness could not have been immediately seen for what it is, i.e. a symptom of the very devaluation of pleasure and happiness themselves. In this sense, psychoanalytic discourse finds an ancient forerunner in Aristotle’s discourses on virtue. Don’t the psychoanalytic cure and the Aristotelian middle way represent perfectly the dismemberment of desire in the attempt to create stable individuals who are “happy” with the dominant order? Adorno performs a reversal on the assumptions of these two discourses when he argues that, in order to be able to imagine new ways of promoting different paths to happiness, we must become disgusted with the happiness of normality, we must gorge ourselves on the inadequacies offered by the actual state of affairs, in a word, we must destroy the categories of happiness to which we are resigned to the point of becoming insensible to the established means of creating happiness.
Isn’t this why in his discourses on the sickness of morality Adorno can seem simultaneously so pessimistic and yet so uncompromisingly sober? When sick with the health of the normal, it is only the forms that seem to be labeled as sick, perverse, and mad that hold the keys to revitalizing a more genuine form of health. Adorno would be in agreement with Nietzsche who believes that it is precisely the sickness, stagnation, and weakness of the good which have to be fought against at all costs. This is because, in order to stabilize its power centers and thus render them normal, the good have to foster means of repression that simultaneously represses the symptoms of that repression. With the double bind on the individual’s responsibility to become a sublimated, good citizen comes the double stranglehold on the dynamic production of desire. Relegated to the general, the particular’s power is nullified and brought to a higher level that ignores differences on a molecular level. Raising the social to the absolute, the individual cannot escape the normality which common sense declares as a universal constant of and precondition to good culture. In modern society (which, through its development of power, worries less about the individual’s transgressions), the individual’s deviance from an established order does not so much warrant open, reactionary and repressive measures but instead results to more insidious means which mark the individual as uncultured, unsophisticated, tactless and uncivilized [15].

Positive and/or Negative Freedom

Freedom [16] for Adorno struggles against the imposition of redundancies of the normal in the incessant reinforcement of identity which is produced by modern social machinery. Identity has a double edge to it depending upon its intent: on the one hand, it can be treated as the absolute and can be reinforced, or “we feel that identity is the universal coercive mechanism which we, too, finally need to free ourselves from universal coercion, just as freedom can come to be real only through coercive civilization, not by way of any ‘Back to nature’” (ND 147). In fact, the negativity of Adorno’s dialectic expresses its logic in a very tortuous way [17]: the actualization of any state of affairs (its identity) arises at the cost of an initial multiplicity, a flow of intensities which are in themselves pure differences. The untruth of any actualization of identity never exhausts the virtuality of the ideas which inhabit the “cavities” between the state of things as they now exist and the possible rearrangement according to virtual maps—the negative breaks with the real, the diagrammatic ideas—which can produce new assemblages and new actualizations. Adorno’s utopia would never accept the absolute character of any identity formation because the claim for a “togetherness of diversity” which would define likeness “as that which is unlike itself” arises from a dialectic which asserts the nonidentity of the system, its inevitable and incessant failure at complete homeostasis. Against the immanent threat of Adorno’s technico-social mechanisms of conformity, we should try to outline a new ecological machinics which does not proceed according to a dialectic of vital and mechanical forces but subverts this dualism altogether by finding the creativity of the machine in its ability to effectuate heterogeneous realities instead of rendering realities homogeneous in a structural matrix.
In the end, there is nevertheless a Nietzschean tone to his critique of a positive ethics, what we have called major. Adorno argues: “Posited positively, as given or as unavoidable amidst given things, freedom turns directly into unfreedom” (232). For Adorno, positive freedom turns concrete in the changing forms of repression, as a resistance to repression (265). He sees in Kantian ethics and its dogmatic doctrine of the free will “an urge to punish harshly, irrespective of empirical conditions.” He more clearly shows his ties to Nietzsche’s understanding of the metaphysics of the hangman when he argues that the glorifying the intelligible freedom of the individual allowed “empirical individuals to be held more ruthlessly accountable, to be more effectively curbed with the prospect of punishment that could be metaphysically justified” (215). In light of this dialectical movement, the positivity of freedom can only coincide with a continued belief in the absolute, constitutive nature of the self. How are we to recreate the social order transversally without rendering the more susceptible to the decay against which such processes are directed? In other words, the task for thought today is to rethink the coordinates and conditions of possibility of revolution and freedom [18] without resubmitting the socius to investments of the previously established order.

Adorno, Theodor. Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life. Trans. E.F.N. Jephcott. London: Verso, 2005.
—. Negative Dialectics. Trans. E.B. Ashton. New York: Continuum, 2004.
Aristotle. Magna Moralia in The Complete Works of Aristotle. Ed. Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984.
Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia, 1994.
—. Logic of Sense. Trans. Mark Lester. New York: Columbia, 1990.
Guattari, Félix. Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Trans. Julian Peyfanis and Paul Bains. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995.
Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne, 1969.
Veatch, Henry B. Rational Man: A Modern Interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics, Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1962.

1. “Either ethics makes no sense at all, or this is what it means and has nothing else to say: not to be unworthy of what happens to us. To grasp whatever happens as unjust and unwarranted (it is always someone else’s fault) is, on the contrary, what renders our sores repugnant—veritable ressentiment, resentment of the event. There is no other ill will. What is really immoral is the use of moral notions like just or unjust, merit or fault. What does it mean then to will the event?” (p. 149).

2. Adorno writes in Minima Moralia: “The self should not be spoken of as the ontological ground, but at the most theologically, in the name of its likeness to God. He who holds fast the self and does away with theological concepts helps to justify the diabolical positive, naked interest” (“Gold assay,” 99).

3. Cf. Minima Moralia: “Even the Christian doctrine of death and immortality, in which the notion of absolute individuality is rooted, would be wholly void if it did not embrace humanity” (97). Thus the self is not necessarily done away with through discarding God, but, on the other hand, we would say that we do not believe in God because we do not believe in the permanence and transcendence of our own individuality. Deleuze writes in Difference and Repetition: “God survives as long as the I enjoys a subsistence, a simplicity and an identity which express the entirety of its resemblance to the divine. Conversely, the death of God does not leave the identity of the I intact, but installs and interiorises it within it an essential dissimilarity, a ‘demarcation’ in place of the mark or the seal of God” (86-87).

4. Deleuze will write in Difference and Repetiton: “The conditions of a true critique and a true creation are the same: the destruction of an image of thought which presupposes itself and the genesis of the act of thinking in thought itself” (139).

5. Adorno almost dedicates a subchapter (“Contemplation”)in Negative Dialectics to Aristotle (I say almost, because it’s actually on Marx—who better than to invert the Greek bourgeois contemplative life?: “To this day, the trouble with contemplation—with the contemplation that contents itself this side of practice, as Aristotle was the first to develop it as summum bonum—has been that its very indifference to the task of changing the world made it a piece of obtuse practice, a method and instrumentality” (244). He is also critical of Aristotle, the great formalizer of logic, elsewhere: “Logic is a practice insulated against itself. Contemplative conduct, the subjective correlate of logic, is the conduct that wills nothing.” (230). Strong words against the admirer of the vita contemplativa.

6. In reference to the super-ego, Adorno writes: “The Freudian school in its heroic period…used to call for a ruthless criticism of the super-ego as something truly heteronomous and alien to the ego. The super-ego was recognized, then, as blindly, unconsciously internalized coercion…Psychoanalysis, clinging to its fatal faith in the division of labor, uncritically receives this view of normalcy from the existing society. As soon as it puts the brakes of social conformism on the critique of the super-ego launched by itself, psychoanalysis comes close to that repression which to this days has marred all teachings of freedom…A critique of the super-ego would have to turn into one of the society that produces the super-ego; if psychoanalysis stand mute here, they accommodate the ruling social norm” (Negative Dialectics, 272-274). In effect, what should be noted is that psychoanalysis is a constant target for Adorno because it simultaneously parades itself as a liberating science while explicitly forming its ends and its subjects on behalf of the state of affairs. We will see that Freudian psychoanalysis especially stands convicted in Minima Moralia.

7. Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. John Cumming. London: Continuum, 86.

8. Listen to how a neo-Aristotelian describes the situation: “From the moral standpoint the important thing is not whether I am shrewd enough to avoid certain misfortunes…but whether I have sufficient character (moral virtue) to sustain them in such a way as a good man or a wise man would do. For imprisonment and financial ruin are misfortunes which may be borne either nobly or ignobly. Which way, then, shall I bear them?” Henry B. Veatch, Rational Man: A Modern Interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics, Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1962. 163-164. What is truly interesting about this claim is that it comes close to approaching Deleuze’s dictum on ethics: not to be unworthy of what happens to us. This may be where an ethics of the event falls prey to a political territoriality which wants to know if we handle the event well, i.e. if we pass or fail, belong or become ostracized. Through what event do we gain the marks of morality which guarantee the stamp of character that we need to be a part of the good guys? In other words, mnemotechnically, what is the (corporeal) price to be paid (quantitatively) in order to rationally (re)produce the good throughout society? In a word, what are the social, technological, institutional, authoritarian, etc. machines that carry out this process and what are the assemblages required to guarantee the consistency of these machines?

9. Cf. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E.B. Ashton. London: Continuum, p. 146-48, “On the Dialectics of Identity.” Adorno’s insistence on the negativity of the dialectic—the unease with which the Aufhebung cancels the negative and renders it fully sublimated into a (normative)positivity—is extremely clear in his denunciation of totality as perpetually non-identical. Adorno argues that “The will to identity works in each synthesis. As an a priori task of thought, a task immanent in thought, identity seems positive and desirable: the substrate of the synthesis is thus held to be reconciled with the I, and therefore to be good. Which promptly permits the moral desideratum that the subject, understanding how much the cause is its own, should bow to what is heterogeneous to it. Identity is the primal form of ideology.”

10. Adorno writes: “the structure of [Hegel’s] system would unquestionably fall without the principle that to negate negation is positive, but the empirical substance of dialectics is not the principle but the resistance which otherness offers to identity. Hence the power of dialectics” (160-161). More emphatically, Adorno argues: “If the whole is the spell, if it is negative, a negation of particularities—epitomized in the whole—remains negative. Its only positive side would be criticism, definite negation; it would not be a circumventing result with a happy grasp on affirmation…To negate a negation does not bring about its reversal; it proves, rather, that the negation was not negative enough. The other possibility for dialectics—on which in Hegel’s case served to integrate it, at the cost of its potency—is to remain eventually indifferent to that which has been posited initially” (160). Notice Adorno’s language here: to remain indifferent to it is not to be rendered identical to. Indifference indicates the residual character of the negativity which does not affirm a nondifference, or positivity.

11. Adorno writes: “The name of dialectics says no more, to begin with, than that objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder, that they come to contradict the traditional norm of adequacy. Contradiction…indicates the untruth of identity, the fact that the concept does not exhaust the thing conceived” (5).

12. Adorno will write: “A model covers the specific, and more than the specific, without letting it evaporate in its more general super-concept. Philosophical thinking is the same as thinking in models; negative dialectics is an ensemble of analyses of models” (29).

13. In fact, Adorno will stress: “Because of the immanent nature of consciousness, contradictoriness itself has an inescapably and fatefully legal character. Identity and contradiction of thought are welded together. Total contradiction is nothing but the manifested untruth of total identification. Contradiction is nonidentity under the rule of a law that affects the nonidentical as well” (6).

14. Adorno writes later: “That the concept is a concept even when dealing with things in being does not change the fact that on its part it is entwined with a nonconceptual whole…To change the direction of conceptuality, to give it a turn toward nonidentity, is the hinge of negative dialectics. Insight into the constitutive character of the nonceptual in the concept would end the compulsive identification which the concept brings unless halted by such reflection. Reflection upon its own meaning is the way out of the concept’s seeming being-in-itself as a unit of meaning” (12).

15. Concerning the role of the unity of common sense in the dominant image of thought, Adorno writes in Negative Dialectics: “Once it is held to be self-understood, excused from rational reflection, the self-understood character offers a refuge to the unelucidated remnant and to repression. To be self-understood is the mark of civilization: good, we say, is what is one, what is immutable, what is identical. What does not comply, any heritage of the pre-logical natural moment, will immediately turn into evil, into something as abstract as the principle of its opposite. Bourgeois evil is the post-existence of older things, of things that have been subdued but not wholly subdued” (242).

16. Adorno makes a Nietzschean echo against Kantian moral principles in his section ‘The Fiction of Positive Freedom:’ “Freedom can be defined in negation only, corresponding to the concrete form of a specific unfreedom” (Negative Dialectics, 231). Perhaps this is where Nietzsche’s freedom for can be brought in against the Kantian dogma that any positive freedom is an “as if.” A freedom for would have both aspects of positivity and negativity, due to different movements of connections, disjunction, destruction, which do not obey the laws of the situation. On the other hand, due to Adorno’s ambivalent relation to Nietzsche in Minima Moralia, it would be difficult to fully account for the complex relationship between the former and the latter. Cf. especially section 99 “Gold assay” in which Adorno strongly critiques Nietzsche’s uncritical reception of the notion of “genuineness.”

17. “Living in the rebuke that the thing is not identical with the concept is the concept’s longing to become identical with the thing. This is how the sense of nonidentity contains identity. The supposition of identity is indeed the ideological element of pure thought, all the way down to formal logic; but hidden in it is also the truth moment of ideology, the pledge that there should be no contradiction, no antagonism…Such hope is contradictorily tied to the breaks in the form of predicative identity. Philosophical tradition had a word for these breaks: ‘ideas…’ They are negative signs. The untruth of any identity that has been attained is the obverse of truth. The ideas live in the cavities between what things claim to be and what they are. Utopia would be above identity and above contradiction; it would be a togetherness of diversity…Traditional philosophy believes that it knows the unlike by likening it to itself, while in so doing it really knows itself only. The idea of a changed philosophy would be to become aware of likeness by defining it as that which is unlike itself” (ND, 150).

18. “The autopoetic node in the machine is what separates and differentiates it from structure and gives it value. Structure implies feedback loops, it puts into play a concept of totalisation that It itself masters. It is occupied by inputs and outputs whose purpose is to make the structure function according to a principle of eternal return. It is haunted by a desire for eternity. The machine, on the contrary, is shaped by a desire for abolition. Its emergence is doubled with breakdown, catastrophe—the menace of death. It possesses a supplement: a dimension of alterity which it develops in different forms. This alterity differentiates it from structure, which is based on a principle of homeomorphism. The difference supplied by machinic autopoesis is based on disequilibrium, the prospection of virtual Universes far from equilibrium.” Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: an Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Trans. Julian Peyfanis and Paul Bains. Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1995, 37.

19. Echoing Negative Dialectics throughout many different passages, Deleuze seems close to Adorno when he writes: “Take the social multiplicity: it determines sociability as a faculty, but also the transcendent object of sociability which cannot be lived within actual societies in which the multiplicity is incarnated, but must be and can be lived only in the element of social upheaval (in other words, freedom, which is always hidden among the remains of an old order and the first fruits of a new)” (Difference and Repetition, 193).

This entry was written by Taylor Adkins and published on Friday, May 2, 2008 at 4:09 pm. It’s filed under actualization, Adorno, Aristotle, contradiction, freedom, freud, identity, image of thought, Minima Moralia, minor ethics, Negative Dialectics, Negativity, Normativity, psychoanalysis. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “From a Melancholy Science to a Negative Diale(c)t(h)ics

  1. Beautiful work, buddy! You make me so proud sometimes. I would love to ask you some questions about this.


  2. Thanks man, I know this paper needs much more direction in its body, especially the questions of freedom. But now I have to think about Deleuze, Guattari, linguistics, a-signifying components of passage!! But I could see Adorno flourishing in this milieu as well…

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