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Habermas - The Entwining of Myth and Enlightenment

Habermas - The Entwining of Myth and Enlightenment

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TheEntwinementofMythandEnlightenment:Re-Reading
.DialecticofEnlightenment"
by
J
iirgenHabermas
The
dark
writersofthebourgeoisie-suchasMachiavelli,HobbesandMandeville-hadalwaysappealedtoHorkheimer,whowashim-selfinfluencedbySchopenhauer.Clearly,fromtheirworkstherestillremainedtiestoMarx'ssocialtheory.Theseconnectionswerebrokenbythereallynihilistic
dark
writersofthebourgeoisie,foremostamongthemtheMarquisdeSadeandNietzsche.ItistothemthatHork-heimerandAdornoturninthe
DialecticofEnlightenment,
theirblackest,mostnihilisticbook,inordertoconceptualizetheself-destructivepro-cessofEnlightenment.Althoughtheynolongerplacedhopeonitsliberatingpower,inspiredbyBenjamin'sironic"hopeofthosewith-outhope,"theynonethelessrefusedtoabandonthenowparadoxicallaborofanalysis.Wenolongersharethisattitude.However,underthesignofaNietzscherestoredbysomepost-structuralistwriterssuchasDerridaandtherecentFoucault,attitudesarebeingdisseminatedtodaywhichappearasthespittingimageofthoseofHorkheimerandAdornointhe
DialecticofEnlightenment.
ItistheconfusionofthetwoattitudesthatIwanttoprevent.The
DialecticofEnlightenment
isastrangebook.AsubstantialpartoftheworkwascomposedfromnotestakenbyGretelAdornoduringdis-cussionsbetweenHorkheimerandTeddyinSantaMonica.Thetextwascompletedin1944andpublishedthreeyearslaterbytheQjieridoPressinAmsterdam.Copiesofthisfirsteditionwereavailableforalmosttwentyyears.TheimpactwhichHorkheimerandAdornomadewiththisbookontheintellectualsceneoftheFederalRepublicofGermanyespeciallyduringthefirsttwodecadesafteritspublica-tion,standsincuriouscontrasttothenumberofitspurchasers.Thecompositionofthebookisequallyunusual;itconsistsofanessayof
"ThisessaywhichispublishedhereforthefirsttimewasdeliveredasalectureatBostonUniversityonMarch25,1982.
1.3
Copyright©2001.AllRightsReserved.
 
14
fiirgen
Habermas
justoverfiftypages,two
excursuses
andthreeappendiceswhichcon-stitutemorethanhalfofthetext.Theratherobscuremannerofpre-sentationmakesitdifficultatfirstglancetorecognizetheunderlyingstructureofthetrainofthought.Iwillthereforefirstexplainthetwocentraltheses(IandII).Thisleadstotheproblemwhichconcernsmewithregardtoourpresentsituation:IaminterestedinthesubtlestrategiestoradicallyenlightentheEnlightenmentaboutitself(III).NietzschewasthemostsignificantmodelforwhatIwillcallatotalizingself-transcendenceofthecritiqueofideology(IV).ThecomparisonofHorkheimerandAdornowithNietzscheshallilluminatenotonlythecontrarydirectionsinwhichthetwosidespursuetheirculturalcriticism,but,intheend,shallraisedoubtsconcerningtherepeatedreflexivityofEnlightenmentitself
M.
I.
Enlightenedthinkinghasbeenunderstoodasbothacontrasttomythandasaforceopposingit.Asa
contrast
becauseitcounterstheauthorityoftraditionwiththenon-coercivecoercionofthebetterargument;asan
opposingforce
totheextentthatitbreaksthecollectivespellofthemythicalpowersbymeansofindividuallyacquiredinsightswhichgainmotivationalstrength.Inthismanner,theEnlightenmentwassupposedtocontradictmythandtherebyescapefromitspower.
1
Challengingthisopposition,ofwhichenlightenedthoughtissocer-tain,HorkheimerandAdornoinsteadproposeathesisofsecretcom-plicity:"Mythisalreadyenlightenment;andenlightenmentrevertsto
myrhology.t'j
Thisthesis,announcedintheintroduction,isdevelopedinthetitleessayandsubsequentlysubstantiatedbymeansofaninter-pretationofthe
Odyssey.
Reflectedintheadventuresofthecunningcast-offOdysseusistheprimalhistoryofasubjectivitywhichwrenchesitselffreefromthemythicalforces.Themythicalworldisnotthehomelandbutratherthelabyrinthfromwhichone
must
escapeinordertogainone'sidentity.Themythicalstoriesdoindeedcalltheindividualbacktohis/heroriginsmediatedgenealogicallythroughthechainofgenerations,buttheseritualeventswhicharemeanttobridgeandhealtheguilt-riddendistanciationfromtheoriginsalsowidenthisgapatthesametime."Theprimalmyththusinvolvesbothasenseoforiginandescape:thedreadofbeinguprootedandthesighofreliefatgettingaway.Hork-heimerandAdornothereforepursueOdysseus'cunningintothe
1.
KlausHeinrich,
VersuchiiberdieSchwierigkeitNeinzusagen
(FrankfurtamMain,1964).
2.
Dialectic
of
Enlightenment,
trans.
by
JohnCumming(NewYork,1972),p.XVI;hereafterreferred
to
as
DoE.
3.KlausHeinrich,
DahlemerVorlesungen
(Basel/FrankfurtamMain,1981),p.122f.
Copyright©2001.AllRightsReserved.
 
MythandEnlightenment15
heartofthesacrificialrites:thesecontainanelementofdeceptioninsofaraspeopleattempttoredeemthemselvesfromthecurseofthevengefulpowersthroughtheofferingofsymbolicallyenhancedsub-stitutes.tThislayerofmythpointstotheambivalenceofatypeofcon-sciousnessforwhichritualpracticeisbothrealandimaginary.Theregeneratingpowerofaritualreturntotheoriginsisvitalforthecollec-tiveconsciousnessbecause,asDurkheimhasshown,itguaranteessocialcohesion;equallyvital,however,isthemerelyimaginarycharac-terofthereturntotheoriginswhich,bydevelopingtheegosofthemembersofthetribalcollective,simultaneouslyenablesthemtoescapetheseoriginsastheymust.Thusintheprimalhistoryofsubjec-tivity,theprimalpowerswhicharesimultaneouslysanctifiedandout-wittedalreadyconstituteastageofEnlightenment.Ifdistancefromtheoriginsmeantliberationfromtherepressivegenealogicalchain,Enlightenmentwouldbesuccessful.However,themythicpowersimpedethestriven-afterEnlightenmentandcon-tinuallyprolongthetiestotheoriginswhichareexperiencedascaptivi-ty.HorkheimerandAdornoclaimthatateverynewstage,thisprocessofgainingmasteryoverthemythicalpowersinevitablybringsaboutthereturnofmyth.Enlightenmentissaidtoreverttomythology.Theauthorsgothroughthe
Odyssey
episodebyepisodeinordertodiscoveratwhatpricetheexperiencedOdysseusemergesfromtheadventureshehadencounteredwithanegothatisbothstrengthenedandrigidified.Theepisodestellofdanger,cunningandescape,andoftheself-imposedrenunciationthroughwhichtheego(whichhaslearnedtomasterdanger)gainsitsownidentityandatthesametimerelinquishesthearchaicunitywithbothinnerandouternature.ThesongoftheSirensrecallsajoywhichwasprovidedlongagobythe"fluctuatingrelationshipwithnature";Odysseusyieldstothetemptationsasonewhoknowshimselftobealreadyinchains:"Man'sdominationoverhimself,whichgroundshisselfhood,isalmostalwaysthedestructionofthesubjectinwhoseserviceitisundertaken;forthesubstancewhichisdominated,suppressedanddissolvedbyvirtueofself-preservationisnoneotherthanthatverylifeasfunctionsofwhichtheachievementsofself-preservationfindtheirsoledefinitionanddetermination:itis,infact,whatistobepreserved"
(DoE,
p.54).Thisidea-thatpeopledeveloptheiridentitybylearning
to
controlexternalnatureattheprice
4."Thediscoverythatsymboliccommunicationwiththedeitythroughsacrificeisnot~ctualm~st~ean~ge-oldhumanexperience.Thesacrificialrepresentationthatafashionableirrationalismhassoexaltedcannotbeseparatedfromthedeificationofthehumansacrifice-thedeceitofapriestlyrationalizationofdeathbymeansofanapotheosisofthepredestinedvictim"
(DOE,
p.50
f.l.
Copyright©2001.AllRightsReserved.

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