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ADORNO and the NAME of GOD

by David Kaufmann
Thus God, the Absolute, eludes finite beings. Where they desire to name him, because they must, they betray him. But if they keep silent about him, they acquiesce in their own impotence and sin against the other, no less binding, commandment to name him.1

The critique of metaphysics is by now a venerable tradition in Western thought


and has been tied since the end of the eighteenth century to the principle of emancipation. The drive to disenchant the world -- the ongoing tendency to wrest rational control from what previously could only be seen as blind fate -has always been closely associated with the Enlightenments concerted attack on the institutional privileges and intellectual status accorded to revealed religion. The story is well known. Kant saved faith from Hume and philosophy from dogmatism by curtailing the speculative pretensions of the one and the reach of the other. At the same time, he submitted religion to the court of reason and thus left space for autonomy. The Left Hegelians (particularly Feuerbach and Marx) took the humanization of the world a step further by reducing metaphysics to anthropology and religion to need. The history of religion became the history of mans alienated but authentic hope, a hope that needed to be reclaimed in the name of freedom. Nietzsche -- the apostate son of a Lutheran pastor -- launched his own, anti-Hegelian critique of metaphysics. He sought to psychologize the urge for atemporal, necessary, and universal Truth and thus to cure the nostalgia for a sovereign God and a sovereign Subject by revealing them both to be fictions of grammar and bad faith. And to this day, we find the emancipatory interest in overcoming metaphysics pursued literally by Left Hegelians and rhetorically by Nietzscheans -- by Marxists and Heideggerians, by Leftists and Deconstructionists. If there is any accuracy in this short and somewhat simplistic potted history of anti-metaphysical thought, then it is worth asking how and why it is that Theodor Adorno -- aberrant Marxist, Left Hegelian par excellence, close reader and follower of Nietzsche -- should insist on using blatantly religious tropes throughout his career. Now, it goes without saying that metaphysics -- the study of extra-sensory reality -- is not always the same as religion. But, from his first book on Kierkegaard to his final completed work, the Negative Dialectics, in which he launches a critical recovery of metaphysics itself, Adorno returns again and again to themes derived from metaphysics and theology. Assuming that Robert Hullot-Kentor is correct when he claims that "theology is always moving right under the surface of all Adornos writings" and that "theology penetrates every word" of them,2 I would like to look at the use to which Adorno puts a particularly Jewish notion of the name of God. I will argue that Adorno uses the Name as a model for a philosophy that understands the historical conditions that constrain it and the human needs that render it necessary. Let us begin at the end, with a quotation from the last section of Negative Dialectics. Adorno is discussing that peculiar dialectic of enlightenment that turns on itself with the result that "whoever believes in God cannot believe in God" and that "[t]he possibility represented by the divine Name is maintained by whoever does not believe." Adorno explains: Once the prohibition on graven images extended to speaking the Name; now in this form it has itself come to look suspiciously like superstition. . .This is how

deeply absorbed the history of metaphysical truth has become, that vainly denies history, that is, progressive demythologization. This however feeds on itself just as the mythical gods liked to devour their children. As it leaves nothing but the merely existent behind, it flashes back into myth. For myth is nothing other than the closed relation of immanence, of what is.3 For Adorno, following Weber, the second commandment was the first move towards religious rationalization, a bold attempt to free man from myth: In the Jewish religion, in which the idea of the patriarchate rises to the annihilation of myth, the bond between Name and being is still recognized in the ban on pronouncing the name of God. The disenchanted world of Judaism reconciles magic through its negation in the idea of God. The Jewish religion will not endure a single word that would grant comfort to the despair of all that is mortal. Hope is only tied to the prohibition against calling on what is false as God, what is finite as the Infinite, lie as Truth.4 If myth is the belief in the unavoidability of immanence, in the sheer ineluctable necessity of the world as it is, then Judaism frees itself from myth by making the divine Name transcendent -- not as part of a magic incantation that calls godly powers down to earth but as an indication that the world could in fact be different. It is not that God does not have a name, that therefore the transcendent is not possible. That would be myth, the fall into immanence that monotheistic Judaism sought to escape. The prohibition on speaking the Name maintains the integrity of the transcendent while preventing any shortcuts towards attaining it. But the quotation from Negative Dialectics indicates that the course of disenchantment has not come to a rest with the Judaic victory over myth in the doctrine of the divine Name. The negation of mere magic has in turn been demystified, has been revealed in history to be a false positivity, a myth. The prohibition on magic, on the attempt to harness divine power, leaves one smack in the middle of an unchangeable world. The protection of Gods transcendence has come to look suspiciously like a lapse into immanence, so that now only the non-believer can take the positions once held by belief; only the nonbeliever can cleave to the hope of transcendence that inheres in the doctrine of the Name. At this point in history -- Adornos present moment -- faith has fled from theology, which in turn can be maintained solely by the faithless. The apparent paradoxes that the dialectic of disenchantment brings forth are figured linguistically by piling up negations, by avoiding the false stability of positivities. But the hope that still lingers in the Name is not merely the residue of a double negation, of the refusal of false hope that Horkheimer and Adorno posit in their Dialectic of Enlightenment. It has positive content as well. This becomes clear in a short essay on music and language, written ten years after the collaboration with Horkheimer and a good decade before the Negative Dialectics. In it, Adorno differentiates music from what he calls intentional language that is, the instrumental language of everyday communication: The language of music is quite different from the language of intentionality. It contains a theological dimension. What it has to say is simultaneously revealed and concealed. Its Idea is the divine Name which has been given shape. It is demythologized prayer, rid of efficacious magic. It is the human attempt, doomed as ever, to name the Name, not to communicate meanings... Music

points to true language in the sense that content is apparent in it, but it does so at the cost of unambiguous meaning, which has migrated to the languages of intentionality.5 True language is thus not the language of meaning, of information, of communication between people. It is the revelation of the absolute: Intentional language wants to mediate the absolute, and the absolute escapes language for every specific intention, leaves each one behind because each is limited. Music finds the absolute immediately, but at the moment of discovery it becomes obscured, just as too powerful a light dazzles the eyes, preventing them from seeing things which are perfectly visible.6 The most important problem with intentional language is that it wants to mediate the absolute. It wants to subsume the particular under the universal and render it conceptual, knowable, and thus, not absolute. The absolute is, by definition, impervious to mediation -- it stands alone and independent. Intentional language wants to establish a relation with the absolute, put the absolute in a relation with others. Thus it can only offer partial, limited though conceptually clear, versions of the absolute. True language -- like the language of music -- sacrifices the conceptually clear for the immediacy of that which avoids mediation. Note that Adorno moves from sound to sight. Language and music are like a blinding light that unveils a presence in its inexhaustible totality in a flash. Unlike music and language, it is not articulated over time. It is sudden and beyond dispute. This dream of a language beyond intention derives directly from Walter Benjamin. Here is Benjamin in the famously difficult introduction to his book on German tragic drama (Trauerspiel): Truth is the death of intention. . . The structure of truth, then demands a mode of being which in its lack of intentionality resembles the simple existence of things, but which is superior in its permanence.7 Benjamin contrasts Truth with the Idealist account of knowledge (Erkenntnis). Whereas Knowledge seeks possession of an object through representation, Truth is the self-representation of the object, its self-revelation.8 Truth, as the simple existence of things, is Edenic and tied to the Adamic practice of naming: ...paradise [is] a state in which there is as yet no need to struggle with the communicative significance of words. Ideas are displayed without intention in the act of naming...all essences exist in complete and immaculate independence, not only from phenomena, but, especially, from each other. 9 Paradise is a paradise of simple existence, where names offer the world up for show. They do not mediate the essences of things, they display them. They leave everything free and absolute. Now, Benjamin, returns to Genesis. He talks about the names that Adam gives, not the name of God. We have discussed the value Adorno places on the ban on speaking Gods name. I would like to suggest that he sees an advantage in recuperating the notion of the Name itself. In order to see what he is getting at, I would suggest that we look briefly at the elective affinities between Adorno and Franz Rosenzweig, the German-Jewish philosopher, whose Star of Redemption Benjamin praised, read, and quoted, although it is not quite clear how well he

understood the book he was able to plunder so well. Rosenzweig provides the following brief discussion of proper names: That which has a name of its own can no longer be a thing, no longer everymans affair. It is incapable of utter absorption into the category for there can be no category for it to belong to; it is its own category.10 A proper name signals an absolute particularity that cannot be subsumed in a category or by a universal. It is not one of many, it is one of a kind and must be addressed intersubjectively, that is, it must be treated as having dignity. My use of Kantian language here is deliberate. That which has a proper name refuses objectification, refuses reduction to instrumental calculations, is a cipher of the Kingdom of Ends. The ultimate proper name is the name of God: The paradox of Gods being simultaneously near and remote is essentially expressed in the fact that he has a name. Whatever has a name can be talked about, can be talked to, according to whether it is absent or present. God is never absent. Hence there is no theoretical concept of God. . .God alone has a name that is also a concept; his concept is also his name.11 This little commentary, written a few years after The Star of Redemption, marks a noticeable shift in Rosenzweigs thinking. A proper name does not necessarily entail that a thing should be granted dignity and thus has to be viewed as unique and free. After all, the false gods of Palestine, such as Baal, have names. So their names do not confer privilege, especially as one can speak them. To be fair, Rosenzweig, who is interested in intersubjective communication, does not mention the prohibition against speaking the Name. For him, it is central that God has a name, that God can be addressed. Because there is no place that God is not, one cannot help addressing him: he cannot be thematized, categorized, or subsumed under the universal, because he is the universal. Gods name is both a particular and a category: it is his own, infinite concept, if one can imagine such a thing. If, for Benjamin, the revelation of simple existence through names occurred mythically in Eden, it is for Rosenzweig a mundane, daily occurrence, and takes place in the constant renewal of the relationship between God and man. In short, God always has his Name. There is an obvious disparity between Adorno and Rosenzweig here. Rosenzweig begins with the assumption that God is absolute. He wants to show, through a constant dialectic of nearness and remoteness, that transcendence does not preclude an intersubjective relation to God. Adorno, on the other hand, wants to apply theological insights to a world and language that seem too immanent, too mythical. He redeploys the theological to make an ontological point, because a true ontology is impossible in our day. This impossibility is historical, although it is worth remembering that in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno do claim that it is endemic to reason itself and thus is primordial. I would like to bracket this argument by claiming that it was formulated with the distinct polemical purpose of that book in mind -- to outflank scientific positivism on one side and proto-Fascist irrationalism on the other; to save modern rationality from itself and from its

enemies. The impossibility of a true contemporary ontology can be seen in the failure of the false ones, particularly Heideggers. In the Negative Dialectics, Adorno argues that there is indeed a moment of truth in Heideggers "fundamental ontology," although this truth lies in the fact that it is a response to a genuine need, not in the content of that response itself. Adorno assumes that autonomy and its concomitant -- the recognition of difference -- have become a basic human need. A version of this need can be expressed philosophically as "the longing that Kants verdict on a knowledge of the Absolute should not be the end of the matter."12 An absolute is, by definition, autonomous. Autonomy as a need is determined by social history, by the administrative rationalization of life under capitalism. Adorno follows Marx and Lukacs in seeing that the essence of capitalism lies in the abstractness of the exchange relationship, where all use value is overshadowed by exchange value, all particularities are rendered equal by the universal medium of money, and all qualities are reduced to mere quantity. This abstractness is born of the lie that exchange value follows natural or quasi-natural laws, not man-made directives.13 In a world geared to profit and mediated by money, efficiency is the order of the day and smooth, well-tooled organization becomes the distorted image of the public good. Heideggerian ontology rebels, however impotently, against these modern conditions of heteronomy. Adorno writes: Society has grown into the total functional context that liberalism thought it was: what is is relative to what is other and is irrelevant to itself. The fear of this, the dawning awareness that the subject is forfeiting its substantiality, prepares the subject to harken to the solemn declaration that Being, which is implicitly equated with that substantiality, survives, incapable of being lost, the total functional context.14 Heideggers ontology, which to Adorno seems like nothing more than a rumbling mythology of Being, is thus an index of a real historical predicament, a reaction to a concrete socio-historical complex. But it is a wrong reaction, because while it maintains the truth of philosophical Idealism by rejecting the irrevocable divisions between inside and out, fact and concept, essence and appearance, history and eternity, it projects their reconciliation not into the future but into an unrecoverable past. It therefore leaves the subject in the trammels of an immanence that cannot be transcended and leaves the subject worshipping a totality -- Being -- that is just another figure in the phantasmagoria that masks the heteronomy of modern capitalist life.15 A true ontology, one that met its human need, would be able to return substance to the subject and the object. It could illuminate the particular without invoking the exchange principle of conceptual thought by submitting that particular to the de-differentiation of the universal. The particular exceeds the universal in that it is unique, has an element that cannot be subsumed so readily. But the concept also exceeds the individual: The individual is both more and less than its general definition. But because it is only through the transumption (Aufhebung) of this contradiction, and so through the achieved identity between the particular and its concept, that the particular, the definite would come to itself, the interest of the individual is not only in keeping what the general concept steals from him, but also with the excess in the concept when it is compared to his need.16

The universal has a surplus that the individual needs. This surplus is a promise that is not yet fulfilled, even at the same time that the particular cannot be contained within the constraints of the concept. In short, concept and individual are a bad fit, but there is a utopian promise in this failure. In Adornos version of reconciliation, as in Rosenzweigs understanding of the Name, there is a vanishing point where the universal would be adequate to the particular and the particular would be adequate to the universal. Adorno is quite explicit in tying the language of philosophy as it moves asymptotically towards the ideal of a true ontology to the doctrine of the Name: The determinable flaw of all concepts makes it necessary to cite others next to it: from this flow those constellations to which solely something of the hope of the Name has passed. The language of philosophy approaches that Name by denying it. What the language of philosophy criticizes, its pretense to immediate truth, is almost always the ideology of a positive, existing identity between word and thing.17 The individual concept is never adequate. Only constellations of concepts can begin to account for the particular. Philosophy moves towards the Name -- that future reconciliation between universal and particular -- by denying that the reconciliation has yet taken place, by giving the lie to the ideological claim that word and thing, universal and particular, coincide. Thus, philosophy parallels Judaism in refusing to speak the Name. If we see the prohibition as a question of mere refusal, we could argue that the analogy between philosophy and Judaism, though riven with pathos, is inaccurate. Jews do not speak the Name because they do not want to profane it; philosophy does not speak the name because it is not yet adequate, because it is not yet the Name. This objection makes sense if one sees the prohibition on pronouncing the Name as applying only to the Tetragrammaton. But this is not the only name God has, a point that Scholem (who Adorno claimed was his chief source of Judaic knowledge)18 made clear on a number of occasions. Scholem made much of the Kabbalistic notion that the Torah itself not only consisted of names of God, but was itself the ineffable and unpronounceable name of God, that opened up interpretation but could never be comprehended by it. 19 Thus not only is one not supposed to pronounce the Name, one cannot. One can only approximate it. David Biale has shown that this notion of the Name and of revelation goes back to Hermann Cohen whose neo-Kantian epistemology seems to have an echo in Adornos account of asymptotic knowledge as well. 20 I have therefore argued that Adorno mobilizes a particularly theological and particularly German-Jewish doctrine of the divine Name to describe the task of a philosophy, based on human need, that urges towards and cannot achieve a true ontology. The impossibility of achieving that ontology is historically derived and does not come from a positive prohibition. But, for Adorno, truly self-reflective thought will have to make the prohibition conscious, will have to thematize it, if it is not to fall for the ideological blandishments of a false ontology based on immediacy. It will not be able to retreat from ontology completely and rest with epistemology, if epistemology means resorting to a strict dichotomy between subject and object that either deifies or eliminates mediation. In the present dispensation where quantitative, universalizing reason rules, the small moves towards true ontology that philosophy can make will look like

aesthetics and will be allied to metaphysics, that is, the knowledge of the absolute. The micrological appreciation of the nuance, of the place where the particular differs from the universal, where its absoluteness appears, if only as a cipher, requires what Kant called the faculty of reflective judgment. 21 This faculty reasons from the individual to the universal. In the process, it plays a game of "as if," because it sees the particular as if it were contained under a determinate universal while knowing that this is a necessary fiction if the particular is to be intelligible at all. For the individual (work of art) cannot be subsumed under a law because it gives itself its own law. Because it has a form, it looks like it should be intelligible. But that form, a cipher of freedom, seems to escape intelligibility in the end. And so, Adorno (whose definition of metaphysics here owes everything to reflective judgment): Metaphysics is, according to its own concept, not possible as a deductive context of judgments about beings. Nor can it be thought of on the model of an absolute Otherness, which in fear despises thought... The smallest intramundane traits would be relevant to the Absolute, for the micrological view shatters the shells of what, measured by the subsuming cover concept, seems to be helplessly isolated, and explodes its identity, the delusion that it is only a specimen (emphasis added).22 To think the absolute, to approach the absolute, cannot entail deduction, for to reason from the particular is by definition inductive. Nor can thought of the absolute flee from reason to some immediate apperception. Rather, it must learn to discriminate the "smallest intramundane traits," those tiny marks of irrevocable difference that show that it cannot be subsumed completely by the cover concept, that it is not completely subject to an alien law. For Adorno, modern thought, if it is to have critical, emancipatory intent, will have to ally itself to metaphysics and draw the tropes of theology into its orbit, not as mere ornament, but not yet fulfilled promises of reason. Adornos nicely Hegelian dictum that "[w]hat has been cast aside but not absorbed theoretically will often yield its truth content only later,"23 gets its demonstration in his recuperation of the Name. I have indicated that according to this logic, critical philosophy must now draw on aesthetics because this is the closest it can come to the unredeemed truth of ontological need. In an essay on Brecht and Sartre, Adorno remarked that "[t]his is not the time for political works of art; rather, politics has migrated into the autonomous work of art."24 In an administered world given over to profit and exchange, art and aesthetic perception will be the only places that the solid ground of resistance that used to be mapped by ontology and politics can be approached. To put it more simply: if politics has fled to art, it is because ontology has fled -- beaten, beleaguered, and distorted -to aesthetics. Adornos crack that in psychoanalysis nothing is true except the exaggerations (as well as betraying a keen understanding of the way meaning is derived in the analytic process) is a deadly accurate self-description.25 Adorno is often his most insightful when he is most extreme. And so it is that for the brief space that remains in this essay, I want to return to Adorno s bizarre insistence on a theology without belief, on metaphysics at the time of its disappearance. While his historical paradoxes -- that only when theology has been banished from critical philosophy can its undigested truths shine out -- interest me and Adornos sometimes complicated theory of the truth needs further elaboration, it is his return to theology and metaphysics when these have been so well

established as the conservative enemies of liberation that I want to end with. Adornos attempt to redeem the undigested and therefore emancipatory semantic potential of Jewish theology and speculative metaphysics serves as an interesting warning against a superstitious fear of an unmastered intellectual past and a fetishizing confidence in the supersession of old ideas. "Metaphysics" tout court is no more the enemy of liberation than a blind faith in historical progress is its guarantee. To banish "metaphysics" in the name of progress might be to regress to a mythological worship of what has merely come to exist. To put it in Adornos own words: "Progress is not a conclusive category. It wants to disrupt the triumph of radical evil, not to triumph in itself." 26 The secret could well be that metaphysics lurking in its old haunts might pose a danger to autonomy but that any all-encompassing prohibition on metaphysics is always on the verge of becoming myth. The name of God is a potent idea, not if it is just secularized to a pretty little metaphor, but if it is redeployed to a place, where, according to its critique, it legitimately belongs. Adorno shows that the name of God is a model for and an index of an ontology, of a metaphysical experience of the absolute, in an era of equivalence and ineluctable mediation. There is, of course, much to be debated in the exaggerations of Adornos thought: his now-outdated reliance on theories of monopoly capital; his often monochromatic account of the course of rationalization; and his language theory. Nevertheless, I remain impressed with his guts, with his adamant refusal to give up one iota of experience to the rigorism of a post-Kantian philosophy. While I understand Habermass scruples about the limits of philosophy, I cannot help remembering that Habermas addresses the practice of philosophy as a discipline, not the practice of thought itself. This being the case, Adorno indicates that our thinking might well want to avail itself of the truths of theology and metaphysics as long as we can see just how false they are, that is, just how they are false.27

Footnotes
(1) Theodor W. Adorno, "Sacred Fragment: Schoenbergs Moses und Aron," Quasi Una Fantasia, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Verso, 1992), p. 226. (2) Theodor W. Adorno, Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1989), p. xi. (3) Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E.B. Ashton (NY: Continuum, 1973) 401-2. This is a notoriously bad translation of a notoriously difficult book, and throughout this paper I have altered Ashtons version to conform more closely with the German original. (4) Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (NY: Continuum, 1986), p. 23. Again, I have modified this translation. (5) Quasi Una Fantasia, pp. 2-3.

(6) Quasi Una Fantasia, p. 4. (7) Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London: New Left Books, 1977), p. 36; see also his famous letter to Martin Buber in Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno eds., The Letters of Walter Benjamin, trans. Manfred R. Jacobson and Evelyn M. Jacobson (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 79-81. (8) Benjamin, pp. 29-30. (9) Benjamin, p. 37. (10) Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption, trans. William W. Hallo (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), pp. 188-9. (11) Nahum Glatzer, ed., Franz Rosenzweig (NY: Schocken, 1960), p. 281. (12) Negative Dialectics, p. 61. (13) Here is Marx: "The various proportions in which different kinds of labor are reduced to simple labor as their unit of measurement are established by a social process that goes on behind the backs of the producers; these proportions therefore appear to the producers to have been handed down by tradition." (Karl Marx, Capital, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: New Left Books, 1976), 3 vols., I:135). It is important to supplement this quotation with another from Adorno: "When we criticize the exchange principle as the identifying principle of thought, we want to realize the ideal of free and just exchange. To date, this ideal is only a pretext. Its realization alone would transcend exchange. Once critical theory has shown it up for what it is, an exchange of things that are equal and yet unequal, our critique of the inequality within equality aims at equality too..." ( Negative Dialectics, p. 147). (14) Negative Dialectics, p. 65. (15) Negative Dialectics, pp. 91-3. (16) Negative Dialectics, p. 151. (17) Negative Dialectics, p. 53. (18) Theodor W. Adorno, "Gruss an Gershom G. Scholem," Gesammelte Schriften, ed., Rolf Tiedemann, (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1986), 20 vols., XX:I 482-3. (19) See (in order of their original composition), "Revelation and Tradition as Religious Categories," The Messianic Idea in Judaism (NY: Schocken, 1971), pp. 292-4; "The Meaning of the Torah in Jewish Mysticism," On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (NY: Schocken, 1965), pp. 39-43; "The Name of God and the Linguistic Theory of the Kabbalah," Diogenes 79-80 (1972-3), pp. 77-80, 173-4, 180-3, 194. (20) David Biale, Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah and Counter-History (Cambridge:

Harvard Univ. Press, 1979), pp. 79-80, 96-7, 110-11. (21) Cf. Negative Dialectics, pp. 44-5. (22) Negative Dialectics, pp. 407-8. (23) Negative Dialectics, p. 144. (24) Theodor W. Adorno, "Commitment," Notes to Literature, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen (NY: Columbia Univ. Press, 1991-2), 2 vols., II: pp. 92-3. (25) Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, trans. E.F.N. Jephcott (London: New Left Books, 1974), p. 49. (26) Theodor W. Adorno, "Progress," Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History, ed. Gray Smith (Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press, 1989), p. 101. (27) My thanks are due to Sharon Squassoni and Nancy Weiss Hanrahan, who read closely and suggested well. A final note of pathos as well: my father died on October 6, 1994, a year before I wrote this. Being the quintessential German Jew that he was, he was cremated, and his ashes scattered on the hillside behind his house. He therefore has no headstone to honor his memory. This paper, such as it is, is for him: Thomas David Kaufmann, 1922-1994, Proverbs I:6.