Anniversary commemorations are ambivalent events, particularly when they celebrate philosophers. Such commemorations focus on a life’s work and occasionally contribute to its elucidation. However, they frequently do violence to those they intend to honor, by emphasizing primarily those aspects of a thinker’s work which make him acceptable to the spirit of the age. And such was the fate of Theodor Adorno, whose eightieth birthday was observed in 1983 at a major conference, held in Frankfurt, West Germany. There his interpreters, embarked on the task of rediscovering, brought out important aspects and opened up new perspectives. But the heart of Adorno’s work, the negative dialectic, encountered outright resistance. The celebration acknowledged the theoretician of ‘non-violent communication’ (Wellmer) and of ‘relations of universal understanding’ (Bruckhorst), not the analyst of late capitalist society and its blinding mechanisms. One could even hear that: “The negative dialectic as an ‘ontology of the false condition’ cannot be salvaged.”1
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Acknowledgements: Originally published in Leviethan, vol. 12, no. 3 (1984); pp. 336-353. Translated by John Blazek.
Foto: Bernhard Weber