Sunday, December 14, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 5

Adorno, Theodor W.
Negative Dialectics

When I took my oral exams in grad school, one of my committee members, Rodolphe Gasché, chose as his opening question, "What is Negative Dialectics?" To which I replied, "A book by Theodor Adorno." What I remember most about reading this book, and also about discussing it with Gasché, was its relevance, despite all the nonsense about poetry being barbaric, etc., to poetry, or, at least in some sense, its ability to describe what poetry actually is in the modern world. That is, poetry is that part of the world for which the dialectic cannot account, the excess, the leftover energy. At least, that's my understanding of the "negative" in the title. As the dialectic grinds forward, there is always some element that remains outside, and for me, that element is poetry. It begins:

Negative Dialectics is a phrase that flouts tradition. As early as Plato, dialectics meant to achieve something positive by means of negation; the thought figure of a "negation of negation" later became the succinct term. This book seeks to free dialectics from such affirmative traits without reducing its determinacy. The unfoldment of the paradoxical title is one of its aims.

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