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Adorno's critical materialism

Deborah Cook Philosophy Social Criticism 2006 32: 719 DOI: 10.1177/0191453706066977 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Deborah Cook

Adornos critical materialism

Abstract The article explores the character of Adornos materialism while eshing out his Marxist-inspired idea of natural history. Adorno offers a non-reductionist and non-dualistic account of the relationship between matter and mind, human history and natural history. Emerging from nature and remaining tied to it, the human mind is nonetheless qualitatively distinct from nature owing to its limited independence from it. Yet, just as human history is always also natural history, because human beings can never completely dissociate themselves from the natural world, nature is inextricably entwined with human history. Owing to the entwinement of mind and matter, humanity and nature, a version of dialectical materialism can be found in Adornos work. Key words body dialectics Hegel history idealism Marx materialism mind nature Timpanaro

The fallacy of constitutive subjectivity

In recent secondary literature, Theodor W. Adornos work has been variously described as Nietzschean, Weberian, Hegelian, idealist, Marxist, and materialist.1 With equal frequency, commentators exclude Adorno from one or the other of these camps. So, for example, Stephen Bronner claims that Adornos work has nothing at all to do with materialism unless that concept is congured in the most abstract terms.2 Indeed, some Italian Marxists have been far more critical than Bronner, excoriating Adorno as a romantic idealist. This is certainly true of Lucio Colletti who, as Perry Anderson remarks, soundly denounced Adorno (and others as well) for his allegedly Hegelian rejection of materialism.3 But Collettis charge reappears in a somewhat different form in Sebastiano Timpanaros inuential On Materialism. Among other things, Timpanaro asserts that the Frankfurt School as a whole has an antimaterialist, anti-Enlightenment, anti-jacobin orientation; all the schools
PHILOSOPHY & SOCIAL CRITICISM vol 32 no 6 pp. 719737
Copyright 2006 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) DOI: 10.1177/0191453706066977


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theorists are pessimist thinkers who end up in, or at least tend towards, more or less explicitly religious positions.4 Notwithstanding these critical remarks, it is certainly the case that Adorno unambiguously describes his own work as materialist in orientation. Although he would reject Timpanaros bald claim that a materialist would never reduce experience to a reciprocal implication of subject and object, Adorno would, with important qualications, endorse his view that materialism entails above all acknowledgement of the priority of nature over mind.5 Interestingly, Adorno himself quotes approvingly the same passage from the preface to Capital that Timpanaro uses to support his thesis that the mature Marx was a materialist (in the sense that he gave priority to physical and biological nature over the socio-economic and cultural levels of existence). The passage, in Fowkes translation, reads as follows: My standpoint, from which the development of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history [als ein naturgeschichtlichen Proze6], can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he remains, socially speaking, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.7 Yet Adornos interpretation of Marx differs signicantly from that of Timpanaro who appears to abridge the passage to suit his thesis when he neglects to cite the second part of the sentence in his quotation (can less than any other . . .). Not only does Adorno quote the entire sentence but also (albeit elliptically) the ve sentences that preceded it, interpreting Marxs reference to natural history as a reference to second nature. Quoting a later passage from Volume One of Capital to support his interpretation, Adorno claims that, when he spoke about the natural law that governs the development of the economy, Marx was referring to the law of capitalist accumulation that has been mystied into a law of nature.8 Capitalism appears as second nature when it is depicted as governed by natural, unchangeable laws. This idea of capitalism as second nature effectively masks anything that might be conceived as rst nature. Adorno adds here that, for bourgeois consciousness, nothing appears to exist outside any more; in a certain sense there actually is nothing outside any more, nothing unaffected by mediation, which is total (ND, p. 357; trans. mod.). Consequently, the distance between human history and nature only continues to grow (ND, p. 358). Timpanaro mistakenly believes that, when Marx spoke about natural history in Capital, he meant rst rather than second nature. But Adorno would also disagree with his claim that, even in The German Ideology, Marx was not yet a proper materialist.9 In Negative Dialectics, he cites a passage from Part One, Volume Five of The German Ideology claiming that in it, Marx emphasized the unending entwinement of nature and history with an extremist vigor bound to irritate dogmatic materialists. According to Marx:

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We know only a single science, the science of history. History can be conceived from two sides, divided into the history of nature and the history of mankind. Yet there is no separating the two sides; as long as men exist, natural and human history will qualify each other.

Adorno follows this quotation with the dialectically inected claim that the traditional antithesis between nature and history is true in one respect and false in another. The antithesis is true insofar as it expresses what happened to the natural element namely, that nature has been negated to such a degree that what now appears natural is actually social. However, the antithesis between nature and history is false to the extent that it apologetically repeats the concealment of historys natural growth by history itself (ND, p. 358). When he speaks about history concealing its natural growth, Adorno is arguing that the role that material nature has played within human history has largely been ignored. As a result, our understanding of ourselves is fundamentally awed. Adorno wants to challenge this awed self-understanding when he denes Negative Dialectics as an attempt to break through the fallacy of constitutive subjectivity (ND, p. xx). In setting himself this task, Adorno maintains that he is only following Marx. For once Marx drew the line between historical materialism and the popular metaphysical kind, Adorno believes that historical materialism became the critique of idealism in its entirety, and of the reality for which idealism opts by distorting it (ND, p. 197). A critique of the idealist fallacy of constitutive subjectivity entails demonstrating that the mind is not primary. Indeed, Adorno argues that Hegel himself derived self-conscious mind surreptitiously from its relationship to heterogeneous matter in labour. Hypostasizing the mind, he was nonetheless barely able to conceal the origin of the I in the Not-I. Even for Hegel, then, mind originates in the real life-process, in the law of the survival of the species, of providing it with nutrients (ND, p. 198; trans. mod.). On Adornos view, this material life-process, which is impelled by the drive for self-preservation, has conditioned all our relations to external (organic and inorganic) nature. By extension, it has also contributed to the rise of the capitalist mode of production with its rapacious and exploitative relationship to nature. Exchange relations are merely the social expression of our distorted and damaged, but naturally driven, relationship to nature. These ideas will be explored in what follows. In the next section, I shall discuss Adornos claims about the relationship between subject and object, mind and nature. To cite J. M. Bernstein, Adorno views nature as the material substratum of human life,10 but he is by no means a vulgar materialist in the sense that he would reduce mind to nature. The relationship between mind and material nature is far more dialectical than vulgar materialism will allow. In the third section of the article,

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I shall examine Adornos views about the relationship between nature and history. If, as Marx insists in The German Ideology, it is not possible to separate either nature from history, or history from nature, Adorno offers a unique account of the unending entwinement of the two. At the end of the article, I shall venture to describe the character of Adornos materialism. In so doing, I shall build on the work of both Bernstein and Brian OConnor who, more than other commentators, have correctly identied the materialist dimension in Adornos work. This article therefore represents a preliminary attempt to show, not simply that Adornos philosophical enterprise is materialist in orientation, but precisely what is distinctive about that orientation.

Passage to Materialism
In a section of Negative Dialectics entitled Passage to Materialism, Adorno writes: It is by passing to the objects preponderance that dialectics is rendered materialistic (ND, p. 192). When he speaks about the preponderance (Vorrang) of the object, Adorno is referring specically to the preponderance of matter (Materie) over mind. In one formulation of it, the preponderance of the object entails that it is not part of the meaning of objectivity to be a subject, though it is part of the meaning of subjectivity to be an object. Not only do material objects make subjective experience possible, there is a substantively material dimension to subjective experience as well (ND, p. 183). Experience involves the encounter of an embodied subject with an equally corporeal, physical object. This helps to explain why Adorno denies that the qualities we experience in objects (their colour, taste, smell, etc.) are purely subjective; these qualities also have an objective moment because they are borrowed from the objectivity of the intentio recta, or from the subjects own corporeal apprehension of objects. Consequently, Adorno insists that subjective determinations not be stripped from objects. To eliminate these determinations would fail to respect the preponderance of the object because it would ignore the subjects own material encounter with objects as an embodied object itself. Ironically, perhaps, the very qualities that the traditional critique of epistemology eradicated from the object and credited to the subject are due in subjective experience to the primacy of the object.11 In a characteristically paradoxical formulation Adorno writes: If the subject has a core of object, then the subjective qualities in the object are all the more an objective moment.12 At the same time, Adorno rejects nave realism, or the view that material objects are immediately given to consciousness as they are in themselves. On the one hand, an object can be known only as it entwines with subjectivity (ND, p. 186). It would be wrong to think

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that we might apprehend objects free of any added thought or intuition. In fact, Adorno argues that even if it were possible completely to eliminate subjective mediations, the subject would only succeed in conceiving of the object as a pure substratum, a subiectum (ND, p. 184) or, paradoxically, as the very reection of abstract subjectivity. As opposed to this abstract conception of objects, Adorno argues in On Subject and Object that the object of undiminished experience is more objective than that [abstract] substratum.13 On the other hand, one may also infer from Adornos remarks about the objectivity of supposedly subjective qualities, that while subjective mediation does not exhaust objects, neither is it inherently defective or obscurant. In Negative Dialectics he adds that to respect the preponderance of the object means to make progressive qualitative distinctions between things which in themselves are mediated (ND, p. 184; trans. mod.). Objects can be said to be immediate only if the word immediate is used to designate something that lies outside cognition, that cognition does not and cannot exhaust, and without which cognition would not be possible. To say that an object is mediated merely implies that what is mediated is not thereby exhausted (ND, p. 172). Conversely, of course, without the moment of objectivity, the subject itself would be literally nil [nichts] (ND, p. 186). Indeed, it is only because the subject is not radically other than the object that it is capable of grasping objectivity at all (ND, p. 185; trans. mod.). Adorno uses the term afnity to refer to the resemblance or likeness between subject and object qua material, physical (ND, p. 270). As J. M. Bernstein remarks, afnity represents the indeterminate idea of our immersion in and being parts of nature. Importantly, Bernstein also states that Adorno deploys the word as though afnity were at one and the same time already established and something that remains to be achieved. He expresses himself in this way in order to halt an identitarian employment of our relation to nature, that is, to avoid using the concept as though afnity were fully instantiated.14 Far from claiming that we currently recognize our afnity with nature, Adorno insists throughout his work that we have posited ourselves throughout our history as radically other than nature with a view to dominating nature both practically and conceptually. We neither fully experience nor know ourselves as natural material, physical because, among other things, we ignore the extent to which our own behaviour has been, and continues to be, instinctually motivated, specically by the drive for self-preservation. Unconsciously motivated by this drive, we summarily identify objects with concepts matter with subjective (scientic or philosophical) concepts of matter, nature with subjective (scientic or philosophical) concepts of nature. We therefore fail to respect the heterogeneous character of nature, including our own.

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It may appear contradictory to refer to the heterogeneous character of nature in the context of discussing our largely unconscious, and therefore unreective, afnity with the natural world. To speak about our afnity with the natural world, however, by no means implies that we are identical with it. To be a mind at all, Adorno writes, the thinking subject must know that what it touches upon does not exhaust it, that the niteness that is its like does not exhaust it (ND, p. 392). Afnity ought not to be posited as positive because the object is not completely identical with the subject. Consequently, the task of a changed philosophy would be to become aware of likeness by dening it as that which is unlike itself (ND, p. 150). Human beings are not wholly natural, not merely in the sense that we are social beings, but in the sense that the human mind partially extricated itself from the natural world even as it sought to dominate it. Among other things, this means that nature is no more ontologically reducible to mind than mind is reducible to nature (ND, p. 201). To be sure, mind or spirit is also a piece of natural history15 because consciousness is a ramication of the energy of drives; it is part impulse itself, and also a moment of that in which it intervenes (ND, p. 265; trans. mod.). Yet Adorno also claims that we have succeeded, to a limited extent, in distinguishing ourselves from the natural world, albeit in a distorted and damaging way. To this day, reason remains natural as the psychological force split off for purposes of self-preservation. Reason began partially to split off from nature when it attempted to secure its existence against nature in the interest of ensuring its survival (e.g. the cunning of Odysseus confronting the forces of nature that Horkheimer and Adorno describe in Dialectic of Enlightenment). Subsequently, reason turned itself into natures otherness (ND, p. 289) both guratively, as it began to dene itself in stark opposition to nature, and, to a certain limited extent, literally. At the same time, the relative independence of mind with respect to nature is itself a natural achievement. It was by instinctually pitting ourselves against nature in the struggle for survival that we developed the capacity to abstract from the natural world using concepts, thereby acquiring a modest degree of independence from nature. As Adorno puts it, nature itself, in the form of the instinct for self-preservation, calls for something more than conditioned reexes (ND, p. 217). Still, if reason has always functioned as an organ of adaptation,16 our instinctually driven cognitive development has allowed us to distinguish ourselves, both de facto and de jure, not only from objects or from what Adorno calls an existence obdurate in itself (ND, p. 392) but, by extension, from our own material substratum. Accordingly, having achieved a relative degree of autonomy by means of its cognitive performances, consciousness branched off from the libidinous energy of the species (ND, p. 185).

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Although its independence from nature is a natural achievement, the rational subject has historically viewed itself as the absolute antithesis of nature. Failing to recognize that we are also always natural, we have only regressed all the more into nature: reason today merely takes the form of self-preservation running wild (ND, p. 289). But it is important to note at this juncture that Adorno not only insists on the preponderance of the material, natural world over reason or consciousness, he is also concerned with the preponderance of the social world, of institutions, agencies, organizations, socio-historical practices and procedures, over individuals. While Hegel called this social objectivity world spirit, Marx described it as the law of value that comes into force without men being conscious of it. Adorno agrees with Marx: the law of value is the real objectivity to which individuals are subjected both within (through reication, for example) and without, in the market economy where individuals must work if they want to survive (ND, pp. 3001). Over the course of human history, the real total movement of society became independent of the living individuals who created it and continue to sustain it; this movement is over their heads and through their heads, and [is] thus antagonistic from the outset. Though, even in the best of all possible worlds, society and the individual will never be identical, today they have become utterly inimical to each other because societys law of motion has for thousands of years been abstracting from its individual subjects, degrading them to mere executors, mere partners in social wealth and struggle (ND, p. 304). The priority of the object, then, refers to the priority of both the natural and social worlds over the subject.

The unending entwinement of nature and history

The objective world is both social and natural. Today, however, it is the social world late capitalism that appears to be natural. To return to Adornos interpretation of Marx: the so-called law of nature . . . is merely one of capitalist society (ND, p. 354). Approving of Marxs idea that societys law of motion has become second nature, Adorno also argued that second nature currently negates or conceals extrasocial or non-social nature. He continued: What is . . . produced by the functional context [Funktionszusammenhang] of individuals . . . usurps the insignia of that which a bourgeois consciousness regards as nature and as natural (ND, p. 357). On the one hand, then, to the extent that the social world appears to have evolved naturally, it also appears to be something that cannot be changed. This appearance is, of course, utterly illusory because, as Adorno puts it: [t]he rigidied institutions, the relations of production are not Being as such, but even

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in their omnipotence they are man-made and revocable.17 That Marxs reference to the natural laws of capitalism is not to be taken literally is conrmed by the strongest motive behind all Marxist theory: that those laws can be abolished (ND, p. 355). On the other hand, because nature has been negated under capitalism, we have lost sight of organic and inorganic nature both within and without. Driven unconsciously by survival instincts, we have turned nature into something reducible to our concepts of it or, on the practical level, into something to be controlled and dominated through labour and other activities. Failing to respect the preponderance of the object on both the theoretical and practical levels, our experience has become impoverished, diminished. We now inhabit an inverted world where nature has been socialized by dint of being instrumentalized and conceptualized, and the sociohistorical world has been naturalized, turned into second nature. However, despite Adornos extensive criticisms of the ways in which we currently socialize nature, it is, once again, always the case that nature can only appear in socially mediated forms. For Adorno, nature will always also be socially constructed (to use a repugnant phrase, the corrective to which lies in Ian Hackings salutary question: the social construction of what?). In other words, his own critical and materialist orientation towards nature will certainly not forgo conceptual mediation, as critics like Jrgen Habermas have claimed. On the contrary, even as he is mindful of the preponderance of the natural world, Adorno understands that a moment of conceptual mediation is both inevitable and necessary. What concerns Adorno, is not that organic nature and inorganic nature are socially mediated, but rather the identitarian and subsumptive form that mediation has historically taken. As part of his critique of the fallacy of constitutive subjectivity, Adorno takes aim at the identication of nature with our concepts of it because this use of concepts merely states what something falls under, what it exemplies or represents, and what, accordingly it is not itself (ND, p. 149; trans. mod.). If only indirectly, this explains why Adorno rejects the traditional interpretation of dialectical materialism. Dialectics can be said to lie in things only to the extent that it encompasses our conceptual and practical experience of material things an experience that is itself thingly, material, or natural given the preponderance of the object in the subject itself. On the one hand, then, nature is, and will always be, socially mediated. On the other hand, human history has a natural dimension or component. The detachment of nature from history is deceptive, not only because nature is also a social construct, but because the social and historical realm consists of living subjects whose instincts and needs, which have been displaced and distorted by civilization, form part of its underground history.18 In conjunction with this point about the

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underground history of society or societys instinctual, embodied history Adorno argues that the division between nature and history deceives us about the fact that heteronomous history perpetuates the blind growth of nature (ND, p. 141). Marx also recognized this. Although the movement of society, its historical development, now appears to be natural, Adorno maintains that the truth-content in Marxs idea of natural history, its critical content, consists in his recognition that history, which takes the form of the progressive mastery of nature, continues the unconscious history of nature, of devouring and being devoured (ND, p. 355). Again, society has been blindly impelled by the principle of unreected self-preservation (ND, p. 283). That human beings have been degraded for millennia to a mere means of their sese conservare is the law of doom [Verhngnis] thus far obeyed by history (ND, p. 167).19 Accordingly, Adorno argues that there are not two truths: a dialectical one within society and one indifferent to society. The division between society and nature, or between social being and extra-social being, merely reects the deceptive division between the social and the natural sciences (ND, p. 141). This division is deceptive because both the natural and the social sciences have a social character; their procedures, practices, and concepts have developed historically within specic social contexts. Indeed, the prevailing scientic concept of rst nature of biological or physical nature has obviously been constructed from concepts and mathematic formulae that have developed over thousands of years of western history. But, if the social and natural sciences have emerged within specic social and historical contexts, they also have a natural character. To the extent that they exhibit identity-thinking, these sciences have a natural source: the instinct to control and dominate in the interest of self-preservation.20 In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer went as far as to describe self-preservation as the constitutive principle of science, the soul of the table of categories.21 Even though, as Brian OConnor usefully points out, science implicitly recognizes the non-identity of objects with concepts when it revises its hypotheses in light of evidence,22 Adorno argues that its instrumental orientation towards objects adjusts the world for the ends of self-preservation and recognizes no function other than the preparation of the object from mere sensory material in order to make it the material of subjugation.23 As odd as it may appear at this juncture to compare Adorno to Hegel, Bernstein rightly observes in a recent essay that Adorno adopts his own version of Hegels speculative proposition: everything that is subject must be shown to be as much (historical) substance, and what is regarded as substance must be shown to be also subject.24 Adornos proposition takes the following form: history must be shown to be just

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as much nature, and what is regarded as nature must be shown to be just as much history. This idea was broached in Adornos early (1932) essay The Idea of Natural History25 an essay which he himself quotes three decades later in Negative Dialectics: the task of thought is to grasp historic being in its utmost denition, in the place where it is most historic, as natural being, or to grasp nature, in the place where it seems most deeply, inertly natural, as historic being. Nature and history are unendingly entwined because they are ultimately commensurable. Walter Benjamin recognized their commensurability in The Origin of German Tragic Drama. For Benjamin, nature and history converge in the moment of transience (Vergngnis) (ND, p. 359). In his essay on natural history, Adorno attributes this insight to Georg Lukcs as well: Lukcs demonstrates the retransformation of the historical, as that which has been, into nature. Conversely, he views nature as transitory nature, as history.26 Historical being must be grasped as natural being. While philosophy and science, as historically conditioned activities, perpetuate our bondage to nature by virtue of a thinking that identies, that equalizes everything unequal (ND, p. 172), late capitalist society perpetuates this bondage in an analogous way. Under capitalism, things and activities have become commodied. The secret of the commodity form, to which Marx devoted the rst chapter of Capital, is equivalence: the equivalence of one object or activity with an heterogeneous other. Through commodication, unequal or non-identical things are made equal or identical to the extent that they are exchanged with other things. This is why Adorno claims that the exchange principle is fundamentally akin to the principle of identication. Exchange is merely the social model of identity-thinking in which particular objects are subsumed under, and identied with, universal concepts. As the social model of the principle of identication, the development of exchange relations has been impelled by the same instinctual drive that has historically ruled mental activity generally (ND, p. 146). Our exchange-based economy is supposed to benet society by ensuring its continued material survival. For, as Adam Smith and others have argued, when commodity producers, who are oriented exclusively towards private success in the form of prot-making, exchange their products on the market, they unintentionally promote the material reproduction of society as a whole. In other words, exchange is considered (and has historically been justied) as the most effective means of materially preserving both society and its members. Natural being must be grasped as historical being. Among other things, this means that self-preservation has historically taken diverse forms. Horkheimer and Adorno outline some of these in Dialectic of Enlightenment. In the earliest stages of nomadic life, members of the

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tribe . . . took an individual part in the process of inuencing the course of nature through magical practices which, by submitting to nature, were also meant to determine the lines of that submission (when, for example, they clothed themselves in the hides of their quarry in order to stalk it).27 For their part, the myths that succeeded magic are already characterized by the discipline and power that Bacon celebrated as the right mark. In myths, however, the gods are separated from material elements (the sky, the sun, weather, etc.) as their quintessential concepts. A single distinction develops between the logos and the mass of all things and creatures outside it. By virtue of this distinction the world becomes subject to man. Whereas Greek mythology gave Zeus the power to rule over all living creatures, the Judeo-Christian tradition claims that God has given human beings dominion over the living. Subsequently, however, with the advent of enlightenment, the distinction between God and man dwindled because the creative god and the systematic spirit are alike as rulers of nature. As human beings supersede God, myth slowly turns into enlightenment, and nature into mere objectivity.28 In Dialectic of Enlightenment, then, Horkheimer and Adorno show that the instinct for self-preservation has manifested itself in different ways throughout human history. More generally, all our somatically based instincts have changed over time. Bernstein makes this point when he observes that Adorno conceives of neither external nor internal nature as an atemporal system of lawful regularities. Instead, for Adorno, even our biologically given attributes are continually being formed, determined, and elaborated through cultural practice.29 In turn, this means that there is no pristine inner nature waiting for release from repression.30 Adornos insistence on the historically mediated character of instincts is evident in Thesen ber Bedrfnis, an essay seldom cited in the secondary literature. The essay begins with the strong claim that need is a social category. Although nature, in the form of instinct [Trieb], is contained within need, Adorno argues that it is not possible to separate the social dimension of need, as something secondary, from the natural aspect of need as something primary. Furthermore, instincts themselves are so socially mediated that whatever is natural in them only appears as something produced by society.31 Later in the essay Adorno acknowledges that the impossibility of distinguishing between good and bad, genuine and articial, true and false needs makes it very difcult to develop a theory of needs. Because the distinction is impossible to make, a theory of needs must view the satisfaction of all needs as legitimate.32 At the same time, such a theory must recognize that, in their current form, existing needs are themselves the product of class society. There are no needs in which a clear distinction can be made between humanity and the consequences of repression.33

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If our own internal, instinctual nature is not immune from the vicissitudes of history, the same can certainly be said of external nature. As Bernstein remarks, air becomes polluted; animal species become extinct (on their own and through our intervention); mineral resources become depleted; new natural kinds are intentionally developed.34 Changes in external nature can be traced to the impact of other natural forces (such as climate change during the Ice Age, for example) as well as to human intervention, whether intentional or not. Nevertheless, to say that nature is always also historical and history always also natural does not mean that nature can be wholly reduced to history, or that history can be reduced to nature. As the material substratum of human existence, nature remains something other than its historical manifestations. While it is always historically and socially mediated, nature is never entirely identical with its mediated forms (just as objects are never identical with concepts, nor body with mind). For its part, human history has been impelled by natural forces both within and without, but it is also something other than nature because our cognitive development has enabled us to rise above nature to a limited extent. To cite Bernstein again: what we think of as pure reason is an outgrowth of the drive for selfpreservation, something more than that drive but still bound to it.35

Adornos materialism
Adorno offers a distinctive rendering of historical materialism. As I have tried to show, his aim is to demonstrate that history and nature are dialectically entwined. Yet it should be obvious that the degree to which his version of historical materialism remains faithful to Marx is moot. Certainly many Marxists assume that Marxs claims about the material dimension of human existence refer exclusively to socio-economic processes and institutions. All too frequently, Marxists fail to consider the interaction between these processes and material nature. As Kate Soper remarks, this means that Timpanaro is right to pose the question of the extent to which Marxism either inherently or in its contemporary distortions supports a false reduction of natural to social determinants. Indeed, Soper agrees with Timpanaro that Marx is partly to blame for this false reduction. At the same time, she disagrees with him when she states that Marxs lack of clarity about the relationship between the social and the natural worlds extends to his later work as well.36 Having carefully examined the character of Marxs materialism, however, John Foster would take issue with both Soper and Timpanaro. Foster points out that, in his early manuscripts, Marx introduced the idea of a metabolic relation between human beings and nature which

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he later developed in such a way that he was able to give a more solid and scientic expression of this fundamental relationship, depicting the complex, dynamic interchange between human beings and nature resulting from human labor.37 Moreover, although he denies that Adorno is a materialist, Foster would certainly endorse Adornos interpretation of The German Ideology in which Marx and Engels depict nature and history as dialectically entwined. Nature can neither be reduced to human history, nor can it be easily divorced from human history and the sensuous activity of human beings as it develops with a given division of labor, involving specic relations to nature.38 In fact, in his later work, Marx used the concept of metabolism to express the human relation to nature as one that encompassed both nature-imposed conditions as well as our capacity to affect these conditions. More importantly, however, the concept provided Marx with a concrete way of expressing the notion of the alienation of nature that was central to his critique from his earliest writings on.39 What is peculiar in Adornos account of the dialectical relationship between nature and history is the obvious inuence on it of Sigmund Freuds theory of instincts. Bernstein offers a suggestive account of that inuence when he remarks that Adorno was interested, precisely, in psychoanalysiss conception of the transformation of the natural (drive theory) into the social and the recurrent interplay between these two levels.40 However, psychoanalyst Joel Whitebook would reject Bernsteins account. According to Whitebook, instincts are not to be conceived as exclusively natural. Instead, they transgress the frontier between psyche and soma. Freud himself denes instinct as the psychical representative of the stimuli originating from within the organism and reaching the mind, as a measure of the demand made upon the mind for work in consequence of its connection with the body.41 Indeed, it is just Freuds recognition of the entwinement of nature and history in instinct that recommends him to Adorno. In Die Revidierte Psychoanalyse, Adorno defends Freuds approach against that of the revisionists by arguing that Freud is not content to leave reason and socially determined behaviour unexplained but attempts to derive even complex mental behaviours from the drive for self-preservation and pleasure. Essays like Civilization and its Discontents, which Adorno held in high regard, show that Freud views human history as natural history. At the same time, Freud did not deny that nature too has a history because he never excluded the possibility that the concrete manifestation of instincts might undergo the most sweeping variations and modications.42 What Adorno draws from Freuds theory of instincts, then, enables him not only to explain such phenomena as Nazi Germany, but to elaborate on Marxs speculative claims about the relationship between nature and history.

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I briey distinguished earlier between dialectical materialism and the dialectical relationship that Adorno postulates between nature and history. Yet immediately after he denies that dialectics can be extended to nature as a universal principle of explication, Adorno remarks that it is equally wrong to say that nature is undialectical and society dialectical (ND, p. 141). Because we too are part of the natural world and interact naturally with it, there is a sense in which nature can be said to be dialectical. Throughout our history, the drive for self-preservation has induced us either to subject ourselves to (external) nature or to subjugate it. Almost invariably, we have subjugated nature, damaging (sometimes irremediably) and distorting both external nature and our own inner nature in the process. If the ferocity of other animals can be attributed to their imprisonment in survival mechanisms, our imprisonment in these same mechanisms helps to explain our own unacknowledged and therefore more dreadful ferocity (ND, p. 180). Once again, one of the goals of Adornos natural history is to make us aware of our embeddedness in nature so that we nally acquire the self-understanding that we need to put an end to the controlling, dominating, and manipulating activities in which our own internal nature manifests itself. To paraphrase Freud, where irrational behaviour was, there rational behaviour shall one day be. Still, when he denies that human history can be reduced to nature, or nature to history, Adorno also rejects vulgar or mechanical materialism. Unwittingly impelled by nature, the sciences, in which mechanistic materialists appear to have boundless faith, remain in thrall to nature. In fact Adorno claims that, when we reect upon the concept of causality, so pivotal in science, we become all the more aware of nature in ourselves because we discover causality in nature wherever we fall under the sway of natural impulses and attempt to control and dominate nature (ND, p. 269). If we were to become mindful of nature in ourselves, we would resist merely equating the natural world with our causal conceptions of it because we would also respect the alterity of nature. Adorno views science as idealist in character when it reduces objects to subjective (socio-historical) concepts and mathematical formulae. Of course, he does not deny that science works in some sense of that term; he merely suggests that science might work better if it were not so reductive, if it no longer reduced difference, alterity, conceptually by identifying objects with concepts, and practically by attempting to control and manipulate them. Even as he criticizes science, however, Adorno also regrets that philosophy has split off from the natural sciences. Describing this split as fatal, he praises the development of physics since Einstein because it has burst the visual prison as well as that of the subjective apriority of space, time, and causality. Because it has jettisoned the Newtonian principle of subjective observation, physics

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has become more faithful to our experience of the world an experience that argues for the primacy of the object, and against its own omnipotence (ND, p. 188). Although he claims that he recognizes the limits of mechanistic materialism, Timpanaro nonetheless seems to endorse precisely the undifferentiated idea of matter that Adorno criticizes. Timpanaros view of matter as undifferentiated may also help to explain why he emphasizes the passivity of experience. In response to criticism, however, Timpanaro explains that, by passivity, he means only that there exists in knowledge even in its most elementary form, sensation an element of passivity, irreducible to the activity of the subject. In other words, cognition requires a stimulus coming from the external world which is precisely the given.43 Surprisingly, perhaps, Adorno would agree with Timpanaro to the extent that he asserts that there is no sensation without a somatic moment. That a somatic moment can be found in sensation affects, in turn, not only the basic relation of subject and object but the dignity of the corporeal [des Krperlichen] because it implies that corporeality emerges as the ontical pole of cognition, as the core of that cognition (ND, pp. 1934). Yet Adorno also warns against emphasizing the passivity of experience: if passive reactions were all there is, all would . . . be receptivity; there could be no thinking (ND, p. 217). Again, although subject and object refer to one another and are mediated by the other, neither is reducible to the other. Referring to John Searles The Rediscovery of the Mind,44 OConnor remarks that both Searle and Adorno want to undermine structures that have given rise to reductionism. Moreover, both philosophers contend that, while subjective consciousness is irreducible, its irreducibility does not give rise to dualism. However, OConnor also points out that, in contrast to Searle who believes that it is our denitional practices [that] force us to make the distinction that introduces the reduction of subject to object, Adorno rejects this reduction on the grounds that the subject is itself a constitutive element of objectivity.45 Although OConnors use of the word constitutive here is infelicitous, because Adorno claimed that the subject is the agent, not the constituent, of object,46 it is certainly the case that, as the objects agent, the subjects conceptual mediation of the object cannot be stripped away, eliminated, or ignored. Indeed Adorno warns that critical thought must not place the object on the orphaned royal throne once occupied by the subject. Rather than turning the object into an idol, the purpose of critical thought is to abolish the hierarchy (ND, p. 181). By extension, the hierarchy between nature and history must also be abolished. Nature is always mediated by historically situated, socially conditioned, and embodied subjects. Since nature is in part what we have made of it, it is just as much historical as our own history is natural.

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Unlike Timpanaro, then, who refuses the name materialism to the view that experience involves the reciprocal implication of subject and object, nature and history, Adorno not only adopts this view, he also maintains that materialist theory became untrue when it tried to reduce consciousness entirely to matter, as though matter and consciousness were identical. For Adorno, who is obviously recasting dialectical materialism here, dialectics would no more exist without the consciousness that reects it . . . than it can evaporate into that consciousness. He continues: If matter were total, undifferentiated, and atly singular, there would be no dialectics in it (ND, p. 205). Yet, while there is a sense in which Adorno can be said to have reconstructed dialectical materialism, I have called Adornos materialism critical following OConnor. For OConnor, Adornos materialism is critical because it maintains both that the subject does not passively receive meanings from objects, and that the activity of the subject is circumscribed by the determinate independence of the object.47 Nevertheless, there is another sense in which Adornos version of materialism may be described as critical, a sense that OConnor mentions but does not develop. Adornos materialist theory is designed to show that our experience is impoverished and nature damaged precisely because we have failed to recognize the degree to which we are part of nature even as social and historical beings. Human history displays an appalling continuity when viewed in light of our drive to dominate the natural world, other human beings, and nally our own inner nature (ND, p. 320). Unconsciously in thrall to instinct, history also shows that these behaviours have been unremittingly destructive and self-destructive. On the one hand, the nature on which we rely for our survival has been damaged, and continues to be damaged, by our very attempts to secure our survival. Untamed survival instincts now seriously jeopardize our future survival on this planet. On the other, in the quest to preserve ourselves, we have seriously harmed ourselves by repressing instincts and distorting needs. Our very attempts to preserve ourselves have damaged the very selves for the sake of which these attempts were made. These are just some of the paradoxes on which Adornos critical materialism invites us to reect. Department of Philosophy, University of Windsor, Canada


1 See Karin Bauer, Adornos Nietzschean Narratives: Critiques of Ideology, Readings of Wagner (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1999) for a Nietzschean reading of Adorno; see J. M. Bernstein, Adorno:

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Disenchantment and Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) for a Weberian reading; see Yvonne Sherratt, Adornos Positive Dialectic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) for an idealist reading; see J. M. Bernsteins Hegelian reading of Adorno in Negative Dialectic as Fate: Adorno and Hegel, in The Cambridge Companion to Adorno, ed. Tom Huhn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); see Fredric Jamesons Late Marxism: Adorno, or, the Persistence of the Dialectic (London and New York: Verso, 1990) for a Marxist reading; and see Brian OConnors materialist reading of Adorno in Adornos Negative Dialectic: Philosophy and the Possibility of Critical Rationality (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2004). Stephen Eric Bronner, Of Critical Theory and its Theorists (Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996), pp. 1867. Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism (London: New Left Books, 1976), p. 70. Sebastiano Timpanaro, On Materialism, trans. L. Garner (London: New Left Books, 1975), p. 19. ibid., p. 34. Adorno would not be alone in qualifying this thesis. As Kate Soper writes: the properly materialist character of historical materialism cannot simply lie in its acknowledgement that physical matter pre-exists all human thought and action and exerts its particular determinations upon the latter. For in itself that is no solution to the problem of what makes our relationship to that thought and action a relationship of scientic (materialist) knowledge. Indeed the reassertion of the natural and biological dimension does not distinguish Marxist materialism either from naturalism and biologism . . . or from certain empiricist and idealist epistemologies that are at odds with Marxism. See Marxism, Materialism and Biology, in Issues in Marxist Philosophy, vol. II, Materialism, ed. John Mepham and David-Hillel Ruben (New York: Humanities Press, 1979), pp. 701. Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1973), p. 347. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. I, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Vintage Books, 1976), p. 92. Timpanaro quotes part of this sentence in On Materialism, p. 41. Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Continuum Books, 1973), p. 354. Cited henceforth in the text as ND. Timpanaro, On Materialism, pp. 401: it must be said that Marxism, especially in its rst phase (up to and including The German Ideology) is not materialism proper. Physical and biological nature is certainly not denied by Marx, but it constitutes more a prehistorical antecedent to human history than a reality which still limits and conditions man. J. M. Bernstein, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) p. 189. Theodor Adorno, On Subject and Object, in Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, trans. H. W. Pickford (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 250. I am slightly revising remarks I made in Adorno, Habermas, and the Search for a Rational Society (London and

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New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 81, where I quote an earlier translation of Zu Subjekt und Objekt. ibid., p. 250 passim. ibid. In Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, p. 288, Bernstein offers this gloss: if subjects have an objective core, if the subject is thus something other than a transcendental subject, more than a geometrical location in space, then this will be due to just those sensory/perceptual qualities which it shares with objects that traditionally have been designated as merely subjective. ibid., p. 291. Theodor Adorno, Progress, in Critical Models, p. 156. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. J. Cumming (New York: Seabury Press, 1972), p. 222. Adorno, Progress, p. 156. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 231. In Adornos Aesthetic Theory: The Redemption of Illusion (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 1991), p. 165, Lambert Zuidervaart mistakenly claims that Adornos recollection of the early Marx is largely ironic. However, Zuidervaart rightly points out that Adorno does not simply take up the goal of naturalizing human beings and humanizing nature. Rather, Adorno would say that human beings already are natural, all too natural, and nature is unavoidably human, all too human. Human beings carry out domination as if they were beasts of prey, and nature has become a mere object of human control. This behaviour may manifest itself in many (non-mutually exclusive) ways: making money from scientic endeavours in order to gain ones livelihood, competition among scientists for research grants or for recognition by the scientic community, experimentation that involves manipulating and controlling objects (including human subjects), or gearing research towards producing results that will increase the prot of corporations or the strength of the military. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 86. Brian OConnor, Adornos Negative Dialectic: Philosophy and the Possibility of Critical Rationality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), p. 53. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, pp. 834. Bernstein, Negative Dialectic as Fate: Adorno and Hegel, p. 20. Theodor Adorno, The Idea of Natural History, trans. B. Hullot-Kentor, Telos 60 (1984): 11124. ibid., p. 119. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 21. ibid., p. 9. Bernstein, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, p. 189. Bernstein offers his own interpretation of Adornos claims about nature and history in this paragraph. Later, he introduces the term genealogical naturalism to describe the dialectical relationship between nature and history in Adornos work (see pp. 245ff.). Unfortunately, I cannot comment extensively on Bernsteins interpretation here. Briey, while I accept the basic thrust of his interpretation, I reject his claim that Adorno dened nature exclusively as

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animate, and his assertion that Adorno wanted to re-enchant the world by anthropomorphizing it. ibid., p. 200. Theodor Adorno, Thesen ber Bedrfnis, in Soziologische Schriften, vol. I (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1972), p. 392. See also ND, p. 92: Material needs should be respected even in their wrong form, the form caused by repression. Adorno, Thesen ber Bedrfnis, p. 393. Bernstein, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, p. 189. ibid., p. 245. Soper, Marxism, Materialism and Biology, p. 72. Interestingly, on the next page, Soper begins to focus on Marxs claim that human beings are naturally social, or that human sociality is naturally determined. John Foster, Marxs Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), p. 158. ibid., p. 116. ibid., p. 158. Bernstein, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, p. 245, n. 11. Joel Whitebook, Perversion and Utopia: A Study in Psychoanalysis and Critical Theory (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), p. 186. Whitebook is quoting Freuds Instincts and their Vicissitudes, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 14, trans. J. Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1975), p. 122. Theodor Adorno, Die Revidierte Psychoanalyse, in Soziologische Schriften, vol. I, p. 22. Timpanaro, On Materialism, p. 55. John Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (London and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992). OConnor, Adornos Negative Dialectic, pp. 978 passim. Adorno, On Subject and Object, Critical Models, p. 254. OConnor, Adornos Negative Dialectic, p. 20.

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