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Adorno under the spell: Utopia, praxis and the limits of critique

Price, Jack Lovell 2019. Adorno under the spell: Utopia, praxis and the limits of critique. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis presents an interpretation of Theodor W. Adorno’s philosophy that emphasises the notion of the spell. This has been commented on, but rarely centred, in previous scholarship on Adorno. The spell represents Adorno’s understanding of the way in which totalising trends in society (including ‘identity thought’, and the tendency toward ever-greater integration, hierarchy and domination) exerts an ideological force that is so great it informs the way in which we are able to think and act in the world. I argue that, in light of this, Adorno’s negative dialectics should be understood as an attempt to criticise the spellbound world immanently, i.e. without postulating any alternative vision, but only acting to reveal what is excluded under the spell and what, therefore, is false within it. This reading builds on recent work on Adorno’s ‘inverse theology’, extending this to an inverse theory of truth in Adorno, and taking seriously his argument that negative dialectics holds only so long as we are in the ‘wrong state of things’ (ND 11). For all this, however, Adorno is motivated in his critique by a strong sense of utopian possibility and the potential, however distant, of moving beyond the spell. The interplay between these two positions causes difficulty for Adorno at times, particularly in his account of experience, and notoriously when it comes to the question of political action. I argue that there are nevertheless grounds to believe that Adorno’s utopian urge and his critical practice can be reconciled, and I give a distinctive argument that changing social and political conditions since Adorno’s death could allow for meaningful, legitimate praxis that could lead us toward overcoming the spell, which I establish through the politics of climate breakdown.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Funders: AHRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 5 December 2019
Last Modified: 05 Dec 2019 09:53

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