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By Peter E. Gordon

From the start to the top of his profession, the severe theorist Theodor W. Adorno sustained an uneasy yet enduring bond with existentialism. His perspective total was once that of unsparing feedback, verging on polemic. In Kierkegaard he observed an early paragon for the overdue flowering of bourgeois solipsism; in Heidegger, an impresario for a “jargon of authenticity” cloaking its idealism in an air of mystery of pseudo-concreteness and neo-romantic kitsch. Even within the straitened rationalism of Husserl’s phenomenology Adorno observed a useless try and cut loose from the prison-house of consciousness.

Most students of serious conception nonetheless regard those philosophical workouts as marginal works―unfortunate lapses of judgment for a philosopher in a different way celebrated for dialectical mastery. but his chronic fascination with the philosophical canons of existentialism and phenomenology indicates a connection way more effective than mere antipathy. From his first released publication on Kierkegaard’s aesthetic to the mature stories in damaging dialectics, Adorno used to be perpetually returning to the philosophies of bourgeois interiority, looking the paradoxical relation among their happen failure and their hidden promise.

Ultimately, Adorno observed in them an instructive if unsuccessful try and become aware of his personal ambition: to flee the enchanted circle of idealism on the way to seize “the primacy of the object.” routines in “immanent critique,” Adorno’s writings on Kierkegaard, Husserl, and Heidegger current us with a photographic negative―a philosophical portrait of the writer himself. In Adorno and Existence, Peter E. Gordon casts new and strange mild in this ignored bankruptcy within the heritage of Continental philosophy.

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28 Starting Out with Kierkegaard / 21 On this point Benjamin was a discerning reader indeed. The governing claim of Adorno’s book is that one can only unlock the true mystery of Kierkegaard’s philosophy if one resists both its theistic appeals to a transcendent God and its protoexistentialist meditations on the anxiety of finite life. To dwell upon such themes only serves to camouflage and does not reveal the true meaning of Kierkegaard’s philosophical legacy. One properly understands that legacy only if one comprehends the category it simultaneously constructs and condemns as the antithesis of religious existence: the aesthetic.

However old I may become, it will always be impossible for me to think of Cordelia amid surroundings different from this little room. . ” It is an aesthetic-material sign in Kierkegaard’s writing for the “simultaneity” to which everything external and historical has been reduced so as to secure immunity against all historical conditioning. The bourgeois apartment thus serves as a sign of the “subjective thinker” who wishes to isolate him- or herself 26 / Adorno and Existence from society. ”38 But the intérieur for Kierkegaard is not only the scene of seduction and bourgeois interiority.

A proper interpretation of philosophy, Adorno insists, will treat it neither as a mere “manifestation of the thinker’s subjectivity” nor as the formal and systematic coherence of concepts. ” To understand the philosophical import of what Kierkegaard deems “the aesthetic,” we must therefore avoid Hermann Gottsched’s error of celebrating Kierkegaard merely as a poet, and we must instead recognize the place of this aesthetic category within the whole of Kierkegaard’s philosophy. 30 Starting Out with Kierkegaard / 23 Needless to say, Kierkegaard himself was hardly prepared to acknowledge the higher philosophical import of the aesthetic.

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