Theory and the Object Making Sense of Adorno s Concept of Mediation | Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at Download by:  [Harvard Library] Date:  22 January 2017, At: 07:09 International Journal of Philosophical Studies ISSN: 0967-2559 (Print) 1466-4542 (Online) Journal homepage: Theory and the Object: Making Sense of Adorno’sConcept of Mediation Margherita Tonon To cite this article:  Margherita Tonon (2013) Theory and the Object: Making Sense of Adorno’sConcept of Mediation, International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 21:2, 184-203, DOI:10.1080/09672559.2012.727013 To link to this article: Published online: 30 Apr 2013.Submit your article to this journal Article views: 225View related articles  Theory and the Object: MakingSense of Adorno’s Concept of Mediation Margherita Tonon Abstract This article examines Adorno’s use of the notion of mediation, which atfirst glance appears to be problematic and aporetic. While the emergenceof such a concept marks Adorno’s renewed interest in Hegelian philoso-phy, and a distancing from Walter Benjamin’s thought, the understandingof mediation should not be reduced to the Hegelian model. This articlewill argue that Adorno introduces such a concept to explain theory’s neces-sity and verifiability, as well as the experience of the object. Only by takingthese two issues (the mediation between concepts and between subject andobject) in their interconnection is it possible to explain the role of media-tion in Adorno. I will argue that the idea of ‘constellations’ put forward inthe  Dialectics  furnishes us with a model of mediation that goes beyond itssrcinal Hegelian formulation. Keywords:  dialectics; mediation; objectivity; constellations; theory;materialism Introduction Far too little has been written about one of the most central and prob-lematic concepts in Adorno’s philosophy, namely, the concept of media-tion. Even though scholarly articles on related topics 1 have, to a certainextent, addressed this problem or have included it in the treatment of connected issues, I nonetheless believe that it is necessary to examineAdorno’s concept of mediation on its own terms. Only by doing so, is itpossible to clarify Adorno’s use of such a concept, while at the sametime highlighting some of the problems and shortcomings it contains.The use of the concept of mediation in Adorno is inherently problem-atic because, despite its evident Hegelian derivation, it cannot be simplyunderstood in this sense, insofar as it distinctively parts ways with the ide-alistic formulation of such a concept. In addition, when such a concept istaken in a strictly Hegelian sense, as if it were simply an instrument bor-rowed from the Hegelian toolbox, it ends up challenging the overall coher-ency and consistency of Adorno’s thought. 2 Adorno is partly responsible  International Journal of Philosophical Studies , 2013Vol. 21, No. 2, 184–203,   2013 Taylor & Francis  for a similar interpretation, in that he did not expend much energyexplaining and defending his own methodology. Nevertheless, mediationappears to play a crucial role in his thought, insofar as it seeminglycontributes to clarifying a range of different problems, from the relationbetween subject and object, to the stringency of Adorno’s theory. Bearingthis in mind, Adorno’s reader is confronted with an unpalatable alterna-tive between either taking up this somewhat opaque concept in an uncriti-cal manner, trusting the author that ‘it does the job’, or, in light of anHegelian understanding of such a concept, acknowledging its lack of consistency and, hence, denouncing its ineffectiveness (and, in some cases,the overall failure of the Adornian project). Only a few scholars haveacknowledged the problems with Adorno’s use of such a notion 3 and onlya few have attempted to make sense of it on its own terms. 4 The purpose of this article is to elucidate the role and function that thenotion of mediation plays in the development of the thought of TheodorW. Adorno, as well as acknowledging the difficulties that it encounters. Iwill assess to what extent such a concept is dependent on its originalHegelian formulation and in what way Adorno offers a novel interpreta-tion of it. I submit that in order to fully understand such a notion, it is notsufficient to address such a problem from the point of view of the media-tion between subject and object. This approach is insufficient to providethe theoretical justification for the use of such a concept due to the non-identical residue that characterises this relation. For this reason, it is nec-essary to complement it by taking into account the operation of the media-tion between concepts, that is to say, the problem of theory.Hence, I will place to the forefront of the present discussion two mainissues, namely, the question of theory and the problem of the object.The question of theory emerges in the context of Adorno’s confrontationwith Walter Benjamin, while the problem of the object is developed inrelation to his reception of Hegelian dialectic. I will argue that the diffi-culties Adorno’s model of mediation runs into can only be made senseof when these two issues – the issue of theory and objective mediation –are taken in their interconnection. What is at stake is the possibility of giving a coherent and binding account of experience through and beyondthe concept. This can be accomplished only when objective mediationand mediation between concepts are taken as complementary. To thisend, I will consider the notion of constellation as the srcinal model of mediation that Adorno proposes, which furnishes a non-Hegelian answerto the problem of objectivity. I will begin my inquiry with an historicalreconstruction of the historical genesis of such problem, before address-ing Adorno’s reception of the Hegelian legacy. THEORY AND THE OBJECT 185  1. Mediation as the Core-element of Adorno’s New Method In order to retrace the central role that the notion of mediation plays inAdorno’s philosophy, it is fitting to begin from what at first sight mightappear as a document of mere biographical interest, i.e. the Benjamin–Adorno correspondence. This is because it is in the course of the 1935–38 correspondence that the theoretical and methodological differencesbetween the two philosophers comes to be defined and revolves aroundthe reception of Hegel’s thought and the notion of mediation. The sub- ject of the disagreement between the two authors centres on the notionof dialectical images: Adorno challenges both its Benjaminian formula-tion and the interpretative possibilities of such a notion. Through hisconfrontation with the work of Benjamin, Adorno was in search of morerigorously dialectical position, attempting to define a method which isattentive to the complexity of the real, yet at the same time methodolog-ically well-grounded. Such a complexity, according to Adorno, was notgrasped through the dialectical image, a method that appeared to him asinsufficiently discursive, and needed to be expanded in a theory. In orderto develop such a theory, Adorno engaged more intensively withHegelian philosophy, 5 putting the category of mediation to the forefrontof his concerns.According to Rolf Tiedemann, the interpretative method based uponthe analysis of ‘dialectical images’ was developed in conversations andletters exchanged between Benjamin, Adorno and Horkheimer through-out the late 1920s and 1930s. 6 Adorno made use of it as an interpretativetool to decode the ‘riddle of the real’ in his early authorship, such as Kierkegaard – Construction of the Aesthetic , published in 1933, whereAdorno refers to it as having been elaborated by Walter Benjamin. 7 However, it is in Adorno’s 1931 inaugural lecture  The Actuality of Phi-losophy  that we can find the clearest definition of this method:Interpretation of the unintentional through a juxtaposition of theanalytically isolated elements and illumination of the real by thepower of such interpretation is the program of every authenticmaterialist knowledge… 8 As Susan Buck-Morss explains, such an interpretation is a question of breaking down into their minimal components what for Adorno were‘“codes” or “ciphers” of social reality, which contained the bourgeoissocial and psychological structure in monadological abbreviation, butwhich needed philosophical interpretation’. 9 The phenomena in questionwere images that needed to be unlocked by ‘regrouping’ in different con-stellations their constitutive elements. 10 From this there could arise a INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES 186
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