Melting icecaps, missing bees: Adorno on interpretation and dialectics in the anthropocene era
LE3 .A278 2013
Master of Arts
Social and Political Thought
Making sense of eco-political phenomena such as global warming and honeybee colony collapse drives this research project. I turn to Theodor Adorno because he thought rigorously about how ways of thinking and interpreting contribute to what he called the “natural catastrophe of society.” My central claim is that Adorno’s concept of negative dialectics reframes the problem of interpretation so that it becomes possible to analyze empirical objects without reducing them to their concepts. I consider how he treats the paired concepts of subject and object, and related terms, in the history of Western philosophy. In particular, I focus on his discussion of Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, and how negative dialectics arises from the limitations of their ideas. I discuss how Adorno’s dialectical approach aims to avoid falling prey to total exclusion of the world on one hand, or total encapsulation of it, on the other. To avoid these traps he establishes the idea of the constitutive priority of the object. This is the idea that the subject depends entirely on the object for its existence. Inversely, knowledge of objective reality depends on mediation through concepts and language. I conclude by considering how negative dialectics could be mobilized in the critical interpretation of eco-political phenomena. This would be, firstly, the extension of Adorno’s critique of first philosophy to versions of environmental philosophy premised on notions of origin and unity. Secondly, Adorno’s idea of doing justice to specific things by means of conceptual constellation would be extended to natural-historical objects, such as agro-industrial honeybees and melting glaciers, ignored, exploited or killed through processes of social domination.
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