Be Realistic, Demand the Negative

Be Realistic, Demand the Negative

Its [dialectics’] is the agony of the world, raised to a concept.

— Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics

Marina Vishmidt reviews Negativity and Revolution in Mute Magazine:

This volume represents an audacious plot to seize the legacy of Frankfurt School naysayer Theodor Adorno and rehabilitate it for the post-anti-globalisation radical left. Starting from the negative dialectics of Adorno’s own abstention from any social movement in his time, (unless calling the police to remove the students occupying the Institute of Social Research in 1969 counts as participation), the book aims to chart the intricate paths that negation can take in revolutionary politics and thought in the present.

The book’s avowed causus belli is the good fight against the rot of ‘post-structuralism’ introduced into philosophy by Marxists – ranging from Althusser to Hardt and Negri – when they ditched contradiction for difference as the grounding principle of materialist theory. Its strategy is to demonstrate the conceptual and practical virtues of negation, dialectics, and negative dialectics, with the object of restoring class struggle and antagonism to the heart of the revolutionary project. The route through Adorno that this dictates, of course, is bound to be a dramatically ambiguous one, seeing as part of the negativity of negative dialectics is the constitutive gap between object and concept which would militate against the inscription of this thought into any kind of concrete emancipatory praxis. An aporia which Adrian Wilding’s text in particular details adroitly by situating Adorno alongside Herbert Marcuse in the circa-68 milieu. Marcuse stands as a counter-example of a Frankfurt School theorist who became a leading light of the student movements, though Wilding eschews any study of his motives, philosophical or political, training his lens only on Adorno.

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