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T.W. Adorno : the memory of utopia

By Colin Thomas


This thesis has two principal aims: to demonstrate the centrality of memory to\ud the philosophy and aesthetics of T. W. Adorno, and to assess its philosophical\ud significance. Although in recent years Adorno's work has been the object of increased\ud scrutiny within Anglo-American philosophical circles, as yet little sustained attention has\ud been devoted to the concept of memory within Adorno's oeuvre. However, in Dialectic\ud of Enlightenment Adorno and Horkheimer proclaimed that it is "by virtue of this\ud memory of nature in the subject" that "enlightenment is universally opposed to\ud domination. "Given that all of Adorno's work is concerned to redeem enlightenment\ud from domination, the importance of a philosophical interpretation of the concept of\ud memory is pivotal for an engagement with the legacy of Adorno's thought today.\ud It will be argued that, for Adorno, memory always operates in relation to\ud reification. The construal of this relation enjoins the consideration of a number of\ud significant categories within Adorno's work: notably tradition, experience, mimesis and\ud utopia; and further, it serves to situate and distance Adorno from those thinkers - Kant,\ud Hegel, Heidegger and Benjamin - with whom he incessantly engages. Finally, by\ud focusing on the relation between memory and reification, one can gauge the stakes of\ud the Habermasian critique of Adorno, for it is Adorno's understanding of reconciliation\ud (utopia) as the "remembrance (Eingedenken) of nature in the subject" that is the crux\ud of the agon between Habermas and Adorno. I will argue that it is Habermas's failure to\ud fully engage with the ramifications of Adorno's concept of memory that vitiates his\ud critique, and indeed, that this failure provides the means for an Adornian critique of\ud Haberman. It will be argued that memory is not an object of Adornian thought, but\ud rather, that it provides the utopian texture of that thought

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