Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Negative Valences I

I'm reading Adorno's Negative Dialectics, the translation available for free online (http://members.efn.org/~dredmond/ndtrans.html).  This set of notes on the book represents the jottings of someone (myself, an academic) who uses philosophy somewhat opportunistically and pragmatically as a way out of theoretical impasses.

Dennett and Foucault had two very different places in my book Maps and Memes.  Dennett, and cultural evolutionary theory, supplied the memes; Foucault supplied concepts around discursive power formations and assemblage.  In The Geography of Names, ideas from Kripke and Wittgenstein (aka Kripkenstein) were applied to a problem in geographical thought.

I have a new challenge, and it is dialectical.  I am going to use dialectics to be critical of contrapuntality, having begun to see the latter as a reified form of consciousness in postcolonial studies.  Contrapuntality relies upon conservative musical tropes to supply ideas about margin and centre, and how power operates in and through cultural productions derived therefrom.

The dialectics I have used to this point (in my forthcoming monograph Contrapuntal Cartographies) have been too obviously geographical, and a bit heterodox, to be truly effective.  Soja and Jameson were to gallop in at an appropriate moment to provide the dialectical matériel  after an a reasonable amount of time spent deconstructing Heidegger, Lefebvre, Olsson, and Bachelard, among others.

But then I started having these encounters with the Frankfurt School thinkers, starting with Benjamin, and his idea, apparently from Arcades Project, of the dialectical image.  The latter is a visual-material ideological production that Benjamin had a hard time defining himself, but that in essence challenges, in a very compact form, historical contingencies of all manner of commodifications of daily life.

Adorno, apparently was very deeply influenced by both Benjamin, and also by Schonberg (Buck-Morss, 1977), whose music seemed to epitomise artistic freedom under the constraints of a logical-critical system of composition.  A lot like Adorno's system of composition itself.  This is to say that reading Negative Dialectics is tough going.  But after the first half of the introduction it got a lot better.

Kant is very much front and centre, even though it he is not always named, the very Kantian 'the-thing-itself' recurs frequently in relation to later idealistic interventions (mostly Hegel and some Heidegger) and earlier dialectical revolutions (Plato is alluded to but less often named).  Between the universal and the particular, Adorno stays very much on the side of the latter.

The particular is the starting point and the remainder, and the two are not coincident.  We move through universalisms, but never to an overarching one.  In this way Adorno's thought movement-method stays true to itself.  It is consistent, if contradictory, but the contradictions are subject to a double movement, a polyphony and a dialectic of both thought and the thing itself.

Both layers are constantly moving, like a map; and like the critique, the deconstruction of that map.  I have identified several overtly geographical metaphors, and I am documenting these on social media (twitter) as I go.  I am reading ND alongside Buck-Morss, and the next post in this mini-series will examine pages 67-136, Relationship to Ontology.

Buck-Morss, Susan.  1977.  The Origin of Negative Dialectics.  New York: The Free Press.

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