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Toward a New Materialist Semiotics: Undoing the "Dialectic's" Philosophical Hypocrisy

Author(s): Markus Weidler

Source: Monatshefte, Vol. 96, No. 3 (Fall, 2004), pp. 388-408
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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Toward a New Materialist Semiotics:
Undoing the Dialectic's Philosophical Hypocrisy
University of Texas at Austin

The philosophicaloutlookin the early writingsof Max Horkheimer(1895-

1973), works such as his two early and widely influentialessays, "Materia-
lismus und Metaphysik"(1933) and "Traditionelleund kritischeTheorie"
(1937), do not compareeasily with thatin his oftenbetter-knownlaterworks,
especially his most famous co-productionwith TheodorW Adorno, the
Dialektik der Aufkldirung(Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1944, 1947)1'and the
Eclipse of Reason (1947). In fact, Horkheimer'sdevelopmentshows an im-
portantphilosophicaltransformation overthe era,one whichhas not been ex-
plainedotherthanhis reactionto the shortcomingsof the Enlightenment's leg-
acy as representedin WeimarGermany.
In this essay, I will take on the Dialectic from a differentperspective,
aimingat exposing it as a documentnot only of a philosophicalresignation
aboutpoliticalevents,but also of an idiosyncraticreceptionof WeimarGer-
many'sphilosophicalcontext-a philosophicalbackgroundsharedby Hork-
heimer and one of his most renownedphilosophicalcontemporaries,Ernst
Cassirer(1874-1945). As we shall see, Horkheimer'sand Cassirer'sshared
frameworkof intellectualproductionin the WorldWarII eracan be used as a
lens throughwhich to evaluateHorkheimerand Adorno'sseemingabandon-
mentof theirphilosophicalroots.As we shall see, one can arguetheir"shift"
less in termsof intellectualdevelopmentandmoreas a strategicmaneuverde-
signed to circumventmany of Cassirer'stheoreticaland methodologicalad-
vancements.Thatis, it is designedto changethe courseof the philosophyand
historyof cultureas practicedin Germanysince DiltheyandBurckhardt.
I will arguethat,in the Dialectic, Horkheimerand Adorno[hereafter:
H/A] purposelydistancethemselvesfromthe cosmopolitanimplicationsand
overtonesof Cassirer'sEnlightenmentanalysisandadopta rhetoricof philo-
sophicalresignationthatis tailoredto, anditself formativeof, an exclusively
Germanaudienceby promotinga calculatedrevivalof the Germanintellectual
heritage,in artificialisolationfrom otherculturalinfluenceswithinthe gen-
eral phenomenonof the Enlightenmentin its Europeancontext.In this way,
the Dialectic of Enlightenmentemergesnot as a generalcritiqueof the En-
Monatshefte, Vol. 96, No. 3, 2004 388
1 2004 by The Boardof Regentsof The Universityof WisconsinSystem
Undoing the Dialectic 's Philosophical Hypocrisy 389

lightenment for the West, as it has been generally considered, but in a rhetor-
ically reduced form, as a German affair,disregardingthe cultural complexities
and intertwinements of the actual Enlightenment project across geographic
and political boundaries.
I will make this case by examining in some detail H /A's baffling negli-
gence of Cassirer's work in the Dialectic, which is particularly noteworthy in
light of the latter's Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1953-57) [1923-29]. In
the second volume in this series, Mythical Thought (1955) [1925], Cassirer
proffers a philosophical analysis of the phenomenon of myth2that is very par-
allel to that which also figures prominently in the Dialectic (most explicitly in:
"Excursus I").
In this sense, the present essay documents Cassirer's approachas a fruit-
ful but neglected ground for a possible German postwar intellectual identity
available at the time, one which has not been acknowledged, either as a his-
torical influence or as a decisive factor in Horkheimer's development. From
this perspective, H /A's calculated philosophical resignation will emerge as co-
inciding with Cassirer's neglected philosophical project in defining "the road
not taken"3in German postwar thought. That is, viewed in an optic that locates
Cassirer at the cross-roads of new philosophical orientations,4we can recog-
nize him as speaking in a different voice than postwar Western philosophers
This exercise has anything but diminished in urgency over the last ten
years or so. In the aftermathof the belated English translation of Habermas's
Strukturwandelder Offentlichkeit (1962; trans. 1989)5 there has been a re-
surgent interest in the notion of the "public sphere," concomitant with a re-
valuation of concepts such as "(communication) community," "lifeworld"6
or "form-of-life."7 Authors like Axel Honneth (1991), Nancy Fraser (1992;
1995), Seyla Benhabib (1992; 2002), Katherine Arens (1995; 1998), Julia
Kristeva (1986) and Richard Wolin (1992; 1995),8 to name just a few, have
been working at the intersection of political philosophy, social theory and cul-
ture critique to carve out a new form of discourse analysis that is able to ne-
gotiate the complexities of (post)modern societal life.9 This so-called "critical
discourse analysis"'0 harkensback to the analyses of power, language, and so-
cial practice introduced in the US most familiarly by Michel Foucault and
Pierre Bourdieu stressing how a culture's representations are used to enforce
hierarchies. This "movement," broadly conceived (not as a tight-knit "com-
munity" of researchers), has led to forays into a "new critical hermeneutics,""
which takes semiotic theory as central to any cultural critique. Across the
range of these "intersectional writings," the treatment of signs, signifying
practices, and symbolic orders becomes an integral part of their analyses, gen-
erally subsumed under the rubric discursive creation of (social) meaning(s).
Yet while H/A's Dialectic of Enlightenment is often judged as too lim-
ited a cultural critique,'2 they are still widely accepted as the pioneers, or at
390 Markus Weidler

least compatible forerunners,of the currentproject of discourse analysis, as a

mix of cultural criticism, hermeneutics, and even semiotics. By contrast I will
argue here that this lingering legacy is detrimental for two reasons. Not only
is this legacy largely undeserved in terms of the Dialectic's claim toward orig-
inality, as will be shown in some detail. It also blocks the recognition of one
of the actual pioneers of the present discourse-analytic project, H/A's con-
temporary, Ernst Cassirer. Therefore, the comparison I am making here will
counter the FrankfurtSchool myth by exposing what I shall identify as the
Dialectic's philosophical hypocrisy: Its obscuring of various counter-projects,
especially Cassirer'sPhilosophy of Symbolic Forms, which itself has credibil-
ity as a new materialist semiotics and/or critical discourse analysis. More spe-
cifically, in juxtaposing the Dialectic with Cassirer'sMythical Thought,we see
how Cassirer reconceptualizes the communal, or (with Fraser) "public,"func-
tion of religion and art in a way that the FrankfurtSchool does not: as knowl-
edge-producing symbolic orders and resources for cultural opposition and so-
cial liberation within (post)modern'3 society.
Wolin (1995) makes the case for the necessity of my comparison. As he
At stakeis the translationandreceptionin a NorthAmericancontextof theo-
reticalpositionsfirstarticulatedin a verydifferentEuropean(morespecifically,
Franco-German) milieu. Here is where [one] can providesome useful correc-
tives andclarifications:by situatingintellectualpositionsin theirhistoricalset-
tings, one becomesmoreawareof theirmultifariousramifications.(ix)
While recognizing the discursive challenge at hand, Wolin still buys into the
FrankfurtSchool myth, which he adopts rather uncritically, as is clear from
both of his most pertinent books Labyrinths and his earlier volume The Terms
of Cultural Criticism. The Frankfurt School, Existentialism, Poststructural-
ism. In his sympathetic estimation of the potential of the FrankfurtSchool's
critical project, Wolin (1995) favorably distances the Frankfurt School en-
deavor from the shortcomings that he perceives in the Heideggerian model of
This contrastbetweenthe FrankfurtSchool'squalifiedcritiqueof reason-a
critiquethataimsat revisingandbroadening,butnot at dismissingthe concept
-and a radicalcritiquesuch as the one purveyedby Heideggerand his heirs
helps us understandmore preciselywhat is at stake in the discourseof total
Hence, part of what I propose in this essay is to invert Wolin's strategy, argu-
ing that Cassirer can show us strong and often disturbingparallels, ratherthan
contrasts, between the FrankfurtSchool duo and Heidegger, the "magician of
Messkirch."l4 Their purported revolution is much less the cultural critique
than critics like Wolin would assume.
Undoing the Dialectic's Philosophical Hypocrisy 391

Situating the Dialectic: Art, Myth and Religion as Cultural Criticism

The Dialectic is at great pains to present itself as a text aimed at rebellion.
Aside from the preface appended to the 1969 reissue of a text that purportedly
had been difficult to obtain,'5 perhaps the clearest indication of how they in-
tend to engage their intellectual traditions is found in the authors' revival of
Nietzsche as a representativeof radical German thought. Tacitly defining the
enemy by defining Nietzsche as a hero resisting Germany's Enlightement leg-
acy, H/A ranked him among the "darkchroniclers" of philosophy, who tried
to undercut the relentless inheritance of the Enlightenment (118).

Unlikeits apologists,thedark'6 writersof thebourgeoisiehavenottriedto ward

off the consequencesof the Enlightenment by harmonizingtheories[. . .] [but]
mercilesslydeclaredthe shockingtruth[aboutthe indissolubleunionof reason
Die dunklenSchriftstellerdes Biirgertums habennichtwie seineApologetendie
trachtet[.. .] [sondern]sprachen[...] riicksichtslosdie schockierendeWahrheit
[tiberdas unlkslicheBiindnisvon VernunftundUntat]aus. (139) 17
In such passages, the reader is encouraged to correlate or find common cause
between the "merciless declarations"on the part of the "darkchroniclers" and
the "relentless theorizing" that can usher in a new era-the kind of theorizing
through opposition used by H/A themselves, as they try at all costs to refute
the legacy of the Enlightenment in Europe, as it took shape in Nazism.
This analogy can be seen as strategic and aimed at the present ratherthan
at a reevaluation of the nineteenth century, given that H/A's attitude toward
Nietzsche always remains ambiguous. While the authors initially seem to
sympathize with his "dark writing style," however, Nietzsche represents for
them a largely bourgeois thinker because he remains implicated with the En-
lightenment's rationalist legacy, exercising a kind of bourgeois cruelty over his
reader, even as he purportsto refute it. As they explain this legacy:
Butjust as in the serviceof this "higherself" the old asceticideals arelauded
by Nietzscheas self-mastery"forcultivationto supremepower,"so the higher
self showsitself to be a desperateattemptto rescueGod(who is dead),anda re-
newalof Kant'seffortto transformthe divinelaw intoautonomyin orderto save
Europeancivilization-which gave up the ghost in Englishskepticism.Kant's
principle[. . .] is alsothe secretof the superman.His will is no less despoticthan
the categoricalimperative.(114)

Nietzsche, therefore, is much less a supporterof the "relentlessness"which to-

day's readers want to attributeto him, and as part of his legacy, to the Dialec-
tic's own critique.
392 Markus Weidler

Thus H/A use Nietzsche to claim and radicalize their own position of
more outsider or radical critics, who arejust as cynical about postwar Europe,
or "inimical to the spirit of reality" (101) as Kant or even de Sade had been in
the era of the French revolution. At the same time, however, they distance
themselves from Nietzsche (and from his abuse in the Nazi superman) by pre-
senting him as an antecedent of proto-fascist thought because of his participa-
tion in the Enlightenment, a decisively past plane of criticism. This link is
spelled out, as they speak of "Nietzsche's ashamedly unashamed magnanim-
ity which would go to any extreme to save the suffering from humiliation: cru-
elty as greatness, when imagined in play or fancy, deals as harshly with men
as German fascism does in reality" (113).
That outsider, critical, and post-World-War-IIposition that H/A are at
pains to claim is substantiatedin their furtherreferences to the history of phi-
losophy. It is crucial to note that the history of German philosophy that they
obscure in drawing their own line of descent is not the Idealism and Enlight-
enment with which we are familiar today in the Anglo-American sphere, but
a different contemporaneousreading of the history of Germanphilosophy, one
that will allow us to link H/A's project directly to Cassirer,'8as I will take up
below. For the present purposes, it suffices to introduce F.W.J.Schelling as
"the man behind the scenes" in that history of philosophy-one of the crucial
background figures in that distinctly German history of critical idealism in
the nineteenth century, influencing the Dialectic's own strategy of cultural cri-
tique, but almost unnamed in it, as it is to subsequent scholars following the
In an account of the historical genesis of critical theory more familiar to
German readers of their day, the strategy of critical dialectic is anticipated in
the work of the Young Hegelians.'9 Thus H/A begin by referring to Hegel's
Phenomenology of Spirit early on20 and keep returning to it throughout the
first section of the book, "The Concept of Enlightenment."But their omissions
from the history of subsequent nineteenth-century Young Hegelianism are
telling. Schelling, for instance, is mentioned only once, in the context of the
work of art and its aura (19).21After that he is never referredto again. Yet how
H/A introduce Schelling reveals how they borrow from that tradition of cul-
tural criticism, since they acknowledge him as one of the representativesof a
philosophy, which
allowsit [art]precedenceto conceptualknowledge.Accordingto Schelling,art
comes intoplaywhereknowledgeforsakesmankind.[...] The bourgeoisworld
was butrarelyopento suchconfidencein art.Whereit restrictedknowledge,it
usuallydid so not for the sake of art,but in orderto makeroomfor faith.(19)
Die Philosophieist dadurchzuweilenbewogenworden,ihr[derKunst]denVor-
rang vor der begrifflichenErkenntniszuzusprechen.Nach Schellingsetzt die
Kunstda ein, wo das Wissendie Menschenim Stich lhsst.[...] SolchemVer-
trauenin Kunstwardie btirgerlicheWelt nurselten offen. Wo sie das Wissen
Undoing the Dialectic's Philosophical Hypocrisy 393

einschrinkte,geschahes in derRegel nicht,um ftirdie Kunst,sondernum zum

GlaubenPlatzzu bekommen.(35-36)
In other words, the Dialectic approaches Schelling in ways that historians
of philosophy generally do not: it neutralizes the critical edge to the religious
or theological element in Schelling's philosophy by taking the latter's elabo-
rations on art as contrasting with the religious agenda of the bourgeoisie. H/A
oppose bourgeois control of knowledge, particularly in the domains of art
and religion, and do not see that Schelling attributedto both, art and religion,
various critical powers that are necessary complements to the insights of
This elision signals H /A's motivation: They are again not really inter-
ested in the philosopher they have claimed as a predecessor but only in their
own reading, coopting him and his intellectual authority ratherthan engaging
him. Most significantly, after quoting from Schelling's Erster Entwurf eines
Systems der Naturphilosophie,22they do not reintroduce Schelling in "Excur-
sus I," where they might very well have referenced Schelling's Einleitung in
die Philosophie der Mythologie, in preparationfor their own explorations. Yet
historically, because of his renowned work on myth as a positive contribution
to knowledge, Schelling could have figured more directly in both "ExcurusI"
and the later section on "The Culture Industry,"where (bourgeois) individual-
ity becomes one of the Dialectic's central concerns. Hence, H/A's single and
willfully distorting footnote to Schelling, like their use of Nietzsche, must be
seen as a characteristic red herring. They mention and "misplace" precursors
regularly. H/A minimally acknowledge their sources, then claim a strategy of
analysis without addressing the tradition they adhere to-they use both the
form and content of prior culture critics, without interrogating the course of
German history they belong to.
With two such gestures toward the history of German philosophy as it
was likely familiar to their readers, H/A have clearly positioned themselves
vis-i-vis the German traditions in a very specific way, as well: they try to craft
a new reaction to the bourgeois co-optation of art, religion, and philosophy,
using the critical tools of their predecessors, yet relegating their specific con-
tributions to a past tradition of bourgeois thought. They aim at reversing the
co-optation of prior cultural theorists by this educated bourgeoisie, by claim-
ing their critique, not their authority.
From the point of view of the history of philosophy, however, that tradi-
tion of Young Hegelian critique to which Schelling and Nietzsche belong, was
anything but pass6. What Schelling and H/A (and ultimately Cassirer, as we
shall see) all have in common is referring to a new Religiositiit (religiosity or
religiousness) in people's lives-a new source of commitment to and belief in
immanent knowledge and humanity,ratherthan to abstractvalues or the super-
structureof system rationales. That is, they want to make a philosophical case
for a re-instantiatedbelief in immanent being integral to the overall complex
394 Markus Weidler

of socio-cultural relations constitutive of any community, an impetus not un-

like the project of theologian-philosopher Paul Tillich, Adorno's doctoral ad-
visor. At the same time, they seek to describe such religious phenomena or
processes already operative in society without borrowing from the language of
organized theology or institutionalized religion -especially not from the era's
"GermanChristians,"who, from the Dialectic's perspective, had become sus-
pect through their collaboration with the Hitler regime.23 In order to avoid
terminological and conceptual commitments to such suspect institutions of the
1930s and 40s, H/A actually follow Cassirer by taking up the strategy of
Schelling's romanticism and resort to the themes of myth and art in spelling
out the features of such new Religiositdit,as a new framework for humanistic
knowledge that can resist rationalism.
Thusfromthe first,the Dialectic is caughtin a paradox:it seems to re-
ject myth and other forms of religious belief throughout by rendering it but
the flip side of enlightenment-fascist thought, as part of an aesthetics without
social force. Yet historically, a positive evaluation of myth and other forms
of cultural religion (not church theology) as a critical social epistemology
opposing abstract rationality belongs to the tradition of German Christology
revived in the nineteenth century by the Young Hegelians24 in general and
Schelling in particular.Schelling's treatment of myth and art bridges his for-
mer roommate Hegel's philosophical discussion of christological problems25
into a critique of modernity by Nietzsche and the other Young Hegelians, most
notably Kierkegaardand the young Marx.

Cassirer: Myth as a System of Knowledge Production

H/A must have known the line they were drawing, a claim for critical ration-
ality through a rejection of the mythical-religious, inherited from Schelling
and the Young Hegelians. More critically, just that kind of myth-as-critical-
intelligence was a dominant focus in the WWII era, just as it was in the art of
Dada and the Surrealists.26The most famous of that generation internationally,
Ernst Cassirer, openly credits especially Schelling with asking the right ques-
tions about new forms of religiosity and about the relation between religious
consciousness and mythical consciousness, even as he rejects some of Schel-
ling's own answers.
In addition, Cassirer's work on myth as correlated with specific critical
and humanist epistemologies was a hallmark of an internationalcareer lasting
until his death in 1945. In works like Language and Myth (1946) [1925], the
three volumes of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1953-57) [1923-29],
The Myth of the State (1946),27 and Symbol, Myth, and Culture (1979),28 he
uses myth in a positive sense to unlock the resources for a new religiosity and
commitment to everyday human life and knowledge that would be sensitive to
the dangers of present-day totalitarian distortion but not be limited to mere
damage minimization. Rather,his program of a cultural materialist semiotics,
Undoing the Dialectic's Philosophical Hypocrisy 395

informed by a "critical phenomenology" pointed to by Husserl,29aims at an

appreciation of the irreducible religious component of social life (a kind of
critical belief) that would turn into a more active, creative and liberating im-
pulse in its promotion of new forms of cultural resistance and socio-political
In The Myth of the State, Cassirer thus elaborates on "the function of
myth in man's social life" (Part I, Section IV). Under the general rubric of
"symbolic expression" (45), Cassirer explicates the respective twin power
of myth and religion, viz., "the power of objectification and solidification"
(47) and the "power of organization" (48), which they share with all other
modes of cultural activity (language, art, science) as their functional "common
denominator" (45). Here, the function of objectification, or "solidification,"
stresses the material side of what I have proposed as Cassirer'sprogramof ma-
terialist semiotics. For our symbolic acts leave "permanenttraces" (46), which
exceed the intentions of the individual psyche, as they become publicly acces-
sible and acquire meaning for other members in our cultural community.
What we find here is no mere exteriorizationbut condensation.In language,
myth,art,religionour emotionsarenot simplyturnedinto mere acts;they are
turnedinto "works."These works do not fade away.They are persistentand
In mythicalthoughtand imaginationwe do not meet with individualconfes-
sions. Mythis an objectificationof man'ssocial experience,not of his individ-
ual experience.(47)
As for the second power of organization, Cassirer spells out the liberating po-
tential inherent in the cultural activities of myth and religion in terms of active
transformation as opposed to mere passive reception, with respect to one's
(frightful) social environment.
Myth,andreligionin general,haveoftenbeen declaredto be a mereproductof
fear.But whatis essentialin man'sreligiouslife is not thefact of fear,but the
metamorphosisof fear.Fearis a universalbiologicalinstinct.[. . .] But in myth
manbeginsto learna new andstrangeart:the artof expressing,andthatmeans
of organizing,his most deeplyrootedinstincts,his hopesandfears.(47-48)
By introducing language, myth, religion, art, and (scientific) cognition as
"symbolic forms" that can contribute in various ways to meaning-sponsoring
social acts, Cassirer construes each of them as a system of knowledge pro-
duction, an epistemology of active understanding. Each form is thus under-
stood as an organizing principle of meaning formation, which helps us to turn
the "constant flux of the contents of consciousness" (I, 89) into a meaningful
whole.30 In this account, each symbolic form operates according to its own
"logic," which Cassirer defines as "theform of its contents"31or, more spe-
cifically, as "the general form and direction of its concept and class forma-
tion."32The present notion of direction(ality) is explicated in terms of the dif-
396 Markus Weidler

ferent "motive[s]" (II, 237), "telos,"33or "original impulse" (III, 142) of each
form. Knowledge is an interested appropriationof facts of existence, directing
action. That is, each symbolic form is grounded in a specific spiritual "atti-
tude" (II, 239; III, 151) or "interest of cognition" (III, 60), with which it con-
fronts the continuum of our experience and provides a tool that allows us to
make sense of it:
In scientificanalysisthe roadruns from the "thing"to the "condition,"from
"substantial"to "functional"intuition;[. ..] (II, 53-54)
The morecognitionadvances,the moreit limitsitself to inquiringinto the pure
how of change, i.e., into its necessaryform; myth, on the contrary,inquires
solely into its what, whence, and whither,and it insists on seeing both the
whence and the whitherin the form of determinatethings. [emphasesadded]
While [scientific]conceptualthoughtsplits a continuousseries of events into
causes and effects and is thus orientedessentiallytowardthe mode, the con-
stancy,theruleof the change,the mythicalneedof explanationis satisfiedif the
beginningandend of the processareclearlydifferentiated.(II, 54)
Accordingly, the different goals of inquiry or "direction[s] of analysis" (II, 50)
promoted by the different symbolic forms correspond to different needs of ex-
planation. These different modes of inquiry issue different "spiritual dimen-
sion[s]" (II, 239) for each symbolic system of knowledge production regard-
ing their different causalities, spatialities, and temporalities.
Myth and science (and other symbolic forms, or knowledge-producing
systems), to be sure, have different attitudes toward the meaning of change.
Through its focus on the particular in the "here and now" (II, 48), in conse-
quence, myth "hypostatiz[es]"34all processes into substantial entities and un-
derstands change mainly in terms of "metamorphosis"35where one concrete
form morphs into another without complete (ontological) separation (of sub-
stance). The scientific mind set, on the other hand, tends to dissolve processes
into pure relations thus emphasizing the relations themselves over the terms
related.36From this perspective we see that the different orientations toward
change issue different causalities, which are locked into different spatialities
and temporalities:
Whenscientificthinkingconsidersthe fact of change,it is not essentiallycon-
cernedwith the transformation of a single giventhinginto another;on the con-
trary,it regardsthis transformation as possibleandadmissibleonly insofaras a
universallaw is expressedin it [. . .] Mythical"metamorphosis,"on the other
hand,is alwaysthe recordof an individualevent-a changefromone individ-
ual andconcretematerialformto another.(II, 46 - 47)
While scientificthoughtseeks to dissolve all realityinto relationsand under-
standit throughthem,mythicalthinkinganswersthe questionof originsby re-
ducingeven intricatecomplexrelations- suchas musicalrhythmsor the orga-
nizationof thecastes-to a pre-existingmaterialsubstance.Andbecauseof this
Undoing the Dialectic's Philosophical Hypocrisy 397

fundamentalformof thought,all merepropertiesor attributesmustfor mythul-

timatelybecomebodies.(II, 54-55)
With respect to these different approaches to causality, Cassirer hastens to add
that it is this very difference which not only sets the two domains of myth and
science apartbut also makes them recognizable as two independent symbolic
forms, both of which are organized according to their own rationale and im-
manent criteria of validity. In this vein, Cassirer sets out to debunk the long-
standing prejudice that degrades myth as but the naive infant stage of human
reasoning, if not a mere collection of chaotic, non-sensical phantasmagorias.
As he says, "[h]ere again it is not the concept of causality as such but the
specific form of causal explanation which underlies the difference and con-
trast between the two spiritual worlds" (II, 48).
What is more, according to Cassirer's view of the immanent coherence
of the various spiritual worlds (kinds of human knowledge) based on their dis-
tinct "cultural logics," we find that their different causalities are interlocked
with different spatialities and temporalities in each case. One of the most de-
tailed expositions of this intertwinement is given in the second part of the third
volume of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, where Cassirer dedicates one
chapter each to the differing conceptions of space and time. Cassirer'sconsid-
erations here are particularly noteworthy, since he extends his discussion of
the varying intuitions of time for different symbolic forms into a discussion of
the "time of culture and history" (III, 182) in its crucial relation to "historical
consciousness" and the "spiritualform of [. . .] action" (ibid.). This latter dis-
cussion, in turn, points to Cassirer'sprogramof cultural politics as entailed by
his overall philosophy of culture, and thus puts him in direct contact with the
inter- and postwar debate over Germany's cultural-political reconstruction,
joined by H/A in the Dialectic as well as by Heidegger in his Brief iiber den
For Cassirer, then, the dynamic tensions within and between the differ-
ent spiritual domains do not so much imply harmony as they imply struggle.
The particularculturaltrendsdo not move peacefullyside by side, seekingto
complementone another;each becomes what it is only by demonstratingits
own particularpoweragainstthe othersandin battlewith the others.(I, 82)
It is this potential for cultural conflict, which necessitates the formulation of a
program for cultural politics out of the overall framework of cultural philoso-
phy, but as complementary understandings, very post-structuralistin inspira-
tion. To meet this challenge philosophical and cultural-political thought can-
not resort to any "'transcendent' being or principle" without cutting itself off
"from particular aspects of cultural life and the concrete totality of its forms"
(ibid.). The only proper approach is one of immanent critique, "which would
seek to penetrate nothing other than the purely immanent relation of all these
forms to one another" (ibid.). Hence, in order to do justice to the phenomena
398 Markus Weidler

of myth and religion and to tap their symbolic resources for the purposes of
cultural politics we must pay close attention "to the special conditions of life
under which the particularconcrete community stands and develops; but this
does not prevent us from recognizing that here again certain universal spiritual
motifs of formation are at work" (II, 178).

Mythic Fetishism: Some Conclusions

The way in which Schelling figures in Cassirer puts H/A's strategies in the
Dialectic of Enlightenmentinto a different, more questionable light: they have
suppressed the value of religion and will mutate the currentvalue of art for the
Bildungsbiirger in orderto highlight critical theory as a philosophical critique.
To do so, H/A will start by outlining an artistic religiosity and its liberating
potential, ratherthan religiosity as belief in its own right, especially in Section
Two "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception" and Section
Three "Elements of Anti-Semitism: Limits of Enlightenment." Following in
the Schelling-Cassirer tradition, art-religion is emphasized in the former sec-
tion, while religion proper gets more attention in the latter,but both soon turn
different. The red thread that is added and runs through both of these sections
is a central critique of bourgeois commodity fetishism that takes symbolic
knowledge as negative. It is this type of fetishism for which they propose a
new art-religion as remedy and means of resistance. That is, H/A dismiss be-
lief as critical force unless it has a liberating artistic reference outside the con-
nections of community, unlike Cassirer's semiotics, from within it.
In the context of the 1945 moment in which they are writing, this move
is decisively scientifistic in inspiration, since it reflects the kind of Freudianin-
terpretation of the German petit bourgeoisie used in The Authoritarian Per-
sonality, trying to exonerate the class because its psychological readiness for
resistance had been blunted in the Nazi takeover of the mass media as pro-
ducers of inauthentic culture.
The criticism of bourgeois fetishism is intimated as one of the Dialec-
tic's leitmotifs early on in Section One, "The Concept of Enlightenment."The
"terrorof the fetish" (22), which pervades all spheres of bourgeois society, is
first addressed in the form of language fetishism. Interestingly, here H/A de-
liver what would appear to be an exact replication of Nietzsche's critique of
(bourgeois) language,37which does not keep them from lambasting him later,
in "Excursus II," as a proto-fascist thinker of the same caliber as Kant, as was
shown above.38They have, in effect, equated symbol with fetish, turning what
can be either positive or negative in Cassirer into a strictly negative force.
Already in Section One, H/A intimate the full scope of the fetishistic
threat through their treatment of the workings of the "economic apparatus,"
resulting in "domination [. . .] paid for by the alienation of men from the ob-
Undoing the Dialectic's Philosophical Hypocrisy 399

jects dominated" and the corresponding "objectification of spirit."To be more

Automatically, the economicapparatus, evenbeforetotalplanning,equipscom-
moditieswith the valueswhich decidehumanbehavior.Since, with the end of
free exchange,commoditieslost all theireconomicqualitiesexceptfor fetish-
ism, the latterhas extendedits arthriticinfluenceover all aspectsof social life.
Throughthe countlessagenciesof mass productionandits culturethe conven-
tionalizedmodesof behaviorareimpressedon the individualas the only natu-
ral,respectable,andrationalones. He defineshimselfonly as a thing,as a static
element,as successor failure.(28)
This is a classic Marxist critique of bourgeois commodity fetishism, with its
alienating effects, where the economic base fully, or "automatically,"deter-
mines the ideological superstructure.This unqualified commitment to Marx-
ist doctrine is important, because this rigidity of how they see consciousness
diminished by public superstructureundermines H /A's later elaboration on
how new artistic religiousness might catalyze societal potentials for resis-
tance. (Cassirer would simply speak of how it would facilitate discussion
in the group leading to change). While such liberation is not necessarily in-
compatible with the early Marx of the philosophers, the later forms of state-
Marxism that H/A's readers could intuit (whether truly Marxian in spirit or
not) preclude such efforts of resistance. Yet Western European Marxists like
H/A generally agree that art has such critical potential.39
Section Two still highlights the commonalities between the commodi-
fication of language (language fetishism) and the commodification of art (art
fetishism) as parallel forces opposing knowledge. Yet, it is primarily the lat-
ter variant of fetishism that is now explicated in terms of the "amalgamation"
of art and advertisement (161). How art is received and how it operates in
society is now subsumed under the heading of "the totality of the culture in-
dustry" (136). H/A are at pains to point out that their analysis is not concerned
with a simplistic and potentially elitist dismissal of "decadent form[s]" of
art (135):
[W]hatis significantis notvulgarity,stupidity,andlackof polish.[. . .] Butwhat
is new is thatthe irreconcilableelementsof culture,artanddistraction,aresub-
ordinatedto one end and subsumedunderone false formula:the totalityof the
In this sense, at first level, the corruption of art through the culture industry
consists in a "banalization"40that is more thanjust loss of quality and knowl-
edge (by whatever standards).Ratherit is functional corruption that makes art
purposive by taking its symbolic capital and integrating it into the daily cycle
and alternating rhythm of work and leisure on the part of the consumer-
worker. In this sense art gets reduced to a discourse of bourgeois society, as it
400 Markus Weidler

serves the purpose of relaxation and distraction and so becomes a mere "after
image" of the work process:
Amusementunderlate capitalismis the prolongationof work.It is soughtafter
as an escapefromthe mechanizedworkprocess,andto recruitstrengthin order
to be ableto cope with it again.[...] Pleasurehardensintoboredombecause,if
it is to remainpleasure,it must not demandany effort [.. .] No independent
thinkingmustbe expectedfromthe audience[. . .] (137)
Art is reduced to a symbol and enters into a vicious circle where the monoto-
nous stress of the assembly line is balanced by the monotonous numbness in
front of the TV or cinema screen. Concomitantly, myth turns into black magic,
deadly industrial society. Consequently the common distinction between
"light art" and "serious art" (135) does not reflect a contrast in quality or ar-
tistic sophistication but in social function-whether art produces knowledge
as German classicists from the age of Idealism would know immediately.
Viewed in their social functioning, light art is a "mental downer" or sedative,
whereas serious art is a "mental upper" or stimulant. Each form is evaluated
by bourgeois utility thinking not in terms of artistic content but in terms of
their respective effect on, and correlation to, the stress factor inherent in the
work process. In both analyses, art is debased to "rationalized"amusement by
the culture industry.
However, as becomes clear from the further course of H/A's analysis,
such interpretationwould still fail to capture the actual "totality of the culture
industry."H/A see no value in a symbol system that binds a community. Art
is art outside the community, myth is a sacred space outside community
knowledge. At a second level, the intellectualization of art actually marks the
final threatby the bourgeois mindset. The culture industry turns art into an in-
tellectual fetish, a fetish of "deadexpert knowledge," not a symbol system that
produces different forms of knowledge.
Here H/A's critique comes full circle. Bourgeois intellectual fetishism
ultimately works like institutionalized religion: aesthetics rises as an aca-
demic discipline and field of professional occupation, allying with social types
such as the art critic and the "prestige seeker [who] replaces the connoisseur"
(158). Even "[p]ure works of art which deny the commodity society by the
very fact that they obey their own law were always wares all the same" (157).
In other words, in its very attempt to block itself off from the bourgeois
efficiency calculus, art becomes no less law-like, disciplinary, and thus "sci-
entific," as it achieves full semiotic potential in society.
The workof art,by completelyassimilatingitself to need, deceitfullydeprives
men of preciselythatliberationfrom theprincipleof utilitywhichit shouldin-
augurate.[. . .] The commodityfunctionof artdisappearsonly to be whollyre-
alizedwhenartbecomesa speciesof commodityinstead,marketableandinter-
changeablelike an industrialproduct.(158) [emphasisadded]
Undoing the Dialectic's Philosophical Hypocrisy 401

This last passage is importantbecause it intimates H/A's underlying program

of liberation via religio-artistic criticism as they define it. Genuine, i.e., un-
corrupted art, is supposed to "inauguratethe liberation from the utility prin-
ciple;" it is not an element of belief, but of critical judgment. Yet, art, adver-
tising and propagandaeventually collapse into one, overarching machinery of
"psycho-technology" (163).
Advertisingbecomesartandnothingelse, just as Goebbels-with foresight-
combinesthem:l'art pour l'art, advertisingfor its own sake, a purerepresen-
tationof social power.[. . .] In bothcases the same thingcan be seen in innu-
merableplaces, andthe mechanicalrepetitionof the same cultureproducthas
come to be the sameas thatof the propagandaslogan.(163) [secondemphasis
Their relegation of society's superstructureto ideology alone emerges as part
of Marxist cultural reductionism, ignoring the potential value of belief and
signs supplied by the community that Cassirer values. Belief cannot be com-
patible with clear and distinct knowledge.
Cassirer's conception of signifying practices and symbolic forms is thus
rather different from H/A's critical theory, which remains largely aporetic.
The Dialectic implicitly cuts itself off from any potential of cultural liberation
or resistance grounded in communal practice and knowledge production, es-
pecially with respect to the manifestations of a new form of critical belief as a
knowledge that can be deployed in specific cultural petitions (for instance, by
resistant or subversive "outsider"groups), while Cassirer'sPhilosophy ofSym-
bolic Forms is sensitive to those very resources for the purposes of a novel cul-
tural politics. Cassirer ties belief, and hence adaptation and religion into cog-
nitive and symbolic forms. H/A have taken on a master debate of his era, and
largely succeeded in silencing it, to establish their critical theory ratherthan a
critical, materialist semiotics of cultural practice as the master narrative of
their era. Yet what they have achieved is a returnto what might be considered
a kind of individualistic Romanticism or Existentialism, even while they de-
cry the myth and religion that were contributoryto the Nazi episode and hence
of interest to their contemporaries.
The conversations H/A have silenced are not abstract after the Second
World War. Historically, in the immediate aftermath of Germany's fascist
catastrophe, H/A's programmatic proves relatively impotent with respect to
more immediate culturalreconstruction efforts during the malleable transition
period of the Rubble Years,41before the socio-political structures solidified
into the upcoming Cold War constellation and the Adenauer era.42At the
"Zero Hour" (Stunde Null),43texts like Dialektik der Aufkliirung (which itself
was not intended to be published in Germany,remember, as it was suppressed
by Horkheimer) entrust isolated agents with the impulse toward new societal
orientations and social identities. This gesture, however, is undercut by their
402 Markus Weidler

own analysis of all-pervasive social control mechanisms, across the domains

of political economy and psychology. As demonstrated, that text reduces the
central theme complex of social embodiment, signification, and social action
to a totalizing account of monolithic wholes and the psychological rituals of
oppression which support them. They do not address the question of the pro-
duction of knowledge by individuals, or the impacts on the signifying mean-
ing-giving symbols which they occupy. After covertly reviving the incarnation
debate of Young Hegelian Christology (Schelling), H /A's philosophical prom-
ise of a new conception of art-religion, when seen in the light of Cassirer's
work, ultimately amounts to nothing but spiritual isolation (in the tradition of
Kierkegaard) and aesthetic escapism.
H/A succeeded in achieving the visibility of the arguably most signifi-
cant postwar position in German philosophy, yet they did so at the cost of sup-
pressing the broader texture of a prewar debate which philosophers like Cas-
sirer were no longer alive to continue and which lost credibility in many areas
when taken up again by the likes of Heidegger. In this manner H/A must be
considered as "antiphilosophers"'44whose postwar posture is actually quite
comparable to Heidegger's in his Letter on Humanism (1949; written 1946)
where he attempts to remount his intra-warproject of Being and Time (1927)
in the postwar era. That is, he, like H/A, knew the core of the more compre-
hensive project mounted by Cassirer,but chose to brush it aside and substitute
his own distortedversionfor it. In Heidegger'scase, he wantedto takeup re-
ligion, art, and culture, but not social action, where H/A defined a new art and
philosophy at the cost of the cognitive value of symbol and religion in social
action and epistemology.
What was characterized by H/A as linguistic fetishism, is construed by
Cassirer as the twin danger of dogmatism that reifies any pattern of knowl-
edge into dead norms instead of active symbolic practice. In keeping with my
prior exposition of Cassirer's account of reciprocal influence within as well as
between the different symbolic systems of knowledge production, he gives a
parallel account of dogmatism as the distortion of discourse within as well as
between the various spiritual worlds, which is here spelled out in the context
of myth:
All thisshowsthattheunityof mythis in constantdangerof losingitself in some
particular,whichis then acceptedas a satisfactorysolution.Whetherthis par-
ticularturnsout to be a class of naturalobjects,a specificculturalsphere,or a
psychologicalforce is essentiallyindifferent.For in all these cases the desired
unityis transposedinto elementswhenit shouldbe soughtin the characteristic
form which producesfrom these elementsa new spiritualwhole, a world of
symbolicmeaning.(II, 20)
The (arbitrary) absolutizing of one or several particular elements within a
symbolic form hampers the spiritual productivity of that form as an organiz-
Undoingthe Dialectic'sPhilosophicalHypocrisy 403

ing principlefor on-goingmeaningformation.Such internalfixationon iso-

lated elementspreventsany furthercreativeexpansionand, in a mannerof
speaking,the symbolicformstymiesepistemologicalprogressandeventually
"implodes."Note, however,thatsuchimplosiondoes not imply the complete
terminationof the symbolicform.Whatis terminatedis its spiritualexpansion
throughthe productionof newknowledgeormeanings.In thismode,theform
at issue maywell go on to "function"mechanisticallybutno longertrulycre-
atively.Spiritualprocesshas turnedintodogma,"intellectualhybris"(III,81).
At the sametime, its politicalaspecthas been suppressed,not focusedinto a
Furthermore,this kind of internalreductionismwhich stultifies the
process-character of the given symbolicform into a static normativeset of
privilegedentitiescan carryover to othersymbolicforms,whichconstitutes
the secondof the twin dangers:
[T]hougha subordination
of mythto a generalsystemof symbolicformsseems
it presents
imperative, a certaindanger.
Forif a comparison
of themythical form
withotherculturalformsis takenin a purelyobjectivesense,i.e., basedon
it maywellleadto a levelingof the
intrinsicformof myth.(II, 21) [emphasisadded]
Accordingly,the "implosion"of one symbolicformcan prompta shockwave
impactingothersystemsof epistemicproduction,so thateventuallyall sym-
bolic formsoperativein a culturalcommunityarestifledintothepresentnorm
of privilegedentities.In this sense, the "implosion"of one symbolicformcan
be followedby an "explosion"of its now mechanicalfunctionandthusefface
the intrinsicdifferencesamongall forms. In its final stage this development
culminatesin a situationwhereall formsare"leveled"into one totalizingdis-
course,orpracticeof discursivefascism, withno roomforreciprocalcriticism
andstimulationamonga multitudeof spiritualcenters.
The struggleto avoid such deadlockedsituationsmarksthe constant
challengefor a culturalpoliticsin the moldof Cassirer'smaterialistsemiotics.
The constructivetaskfor such a programis neverto establisha staticstateof
"totalperfection"but to uphold a dynamicculturalpluralism,which con-
stantlyinvigoratesthe reciprocalinfluenceof differentspiritualprinciples
manifestin the "livingsubstance"of each functioningsymboliccommunity
capableof creatingand recreatingknowledgeand the praxesappropriateto
beingin the world.

SThevariousstagesof the publicationof theDialektikareindicatedin: S. Benhabib,W.

Bonf, JohnMcCole,eds., On Max Horkheimer.New Perspectives.(Cambridge,MA: MITP,
1993). See: "Dialektikder Aufkltirung:PhilosophischeFragmente,with TheodorW. Adorno
(Amsterdam:Querido,1947;Frankfurtam Main:S. Fischer,1969);originallypublishedunder
the title "Philosophische
Fragmente" (hectographed typescript)(New York/LosAngeles:Insti-
404 Markus Weidler

tute of Social Research,1944)"(414). Forfurtherdetailsin termsof genesis and arrangement

of this work, see also: Rolf Wiggershaus, The Frankfurt School. Its History, Theories, and Po-
litical Significance.Trans.MichaelRobertson.(Cambridge,MA:MITP, 1994)326-344. Fora
criticalcommenton the "indirectformof partisanship" of Wiggershaus'work,see: the 1988af-
terwordto the secondeditionof Axel Honneth,The Critiqueof Power,xix. For the standard
translationused in this essay,see: Max HorkheimerandTheodorW. Adorno,Dialectic of En-
lightenment.Trans.JohnCumming(New York:Continuum,1990).
2Infact, Cassirerhadbeen very prolificon this subjectmattereven beforethis publica-
tion. Fora listingof the "collateralstudies"thatled up to this workas well as theparallelpubli-
cation of Language and Myth (1946 [1925]) see: Charles W. Hendel's Introductory Note (x) to
the second volumeof: ErnstCassirer,ThePhilosophyof SymbolicForms.Trans.RalphMan-
heim. (New Haven:YaleUP, 1953-57) [1923-29]. 3 vols. Vol. 1, Language;vol. 2, Mythical
Thought; vol. 3, The Phenomenology of Knowledge. For the belated adding of the fourth volume,
see: ErnstCassirer,ThePhilosophyof SymbolicForms.Trans.JohnMichaelKrois.(New Ha-
ven: Yale UP, 1996). Vol. 4, The Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms.
3I borrowthis phrasefrom:KatherineArens,"Geisterder Zeit:The Allies' Enlighten-
mentandGermanLiteraryHistory."JEGP(July2003) 336-61. WhileI amtransposingseveral
of Arens'ideas into a differentarenaof philosophicaldiscourse,her articlehas been an indis-
pensablestartingpointfor mostof the considerationsin this essay.
4See, e.g.: MichaelFriedman,A Parting of the Ways.(Chicago:Open Court,2000).
Friedmanrevisitsthe 1929 DavosDisputationsas the historicalbackgroundof a philosophical
turningpoint,wherethe differentprojectsof key thinkerssuchas Carnap,Cassirer,andHeideg-
ger breachedinto whatwas laterto be (mis)labeledas the analyticandthe continentaltradition.
5Jtirgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An Inquiry into
a Categoryof BourgeoisSociety. Trans.Thomas Burger.(Cambridge,MA: MIT P, 1989)
6Here,all the "developmental stages"of this notionbecomerelevant,fromDiltheyover
Husserlto Habermas.
7Forthe latterphrase,see: GiorgioAgamben,"Form-of-Life." RadicalThoughtin Italy.
A PotentialPolitics. Eds. Paolo Virno and MichaelHardt.(Minneapolis:U of MinnesotaP,
1996) 151-56. Generally,this methodologicalorientationhas sparkedrenewedinterestnotonly
in Habermasbut also in the workof Hans-GeorgGadamer,(the early)MichelFoucault,Julia
Kristeva,andPierreBourdieu.Fora reassessmentof these authors,see particularly:Katherine
Arens,"DiscourseAnalysisas CriticalHistoriography." RethinkingHistory2.1 (1998) 23-50.
Hans Herbert KdSgler,The Power of Dialogue. Critical Hermeneutics after Gadamer and Fou-
cault.Trans.PaulHendrickson.(Cambridge,MA: MITP, 1996).
8Pertinentto the presentdiscussion,the respectiveworks of these authorsare: Axel
Honneth, The Critique of Power. Reflective Stages in a Critical Social Theory. Trans. Kenneth
Baynes.(Cambridge,MA: MITP, 1991).NancyFraser,"Rethinking the PublicSphere:A Con-
tributionto theCritiqueof ActuallyExistingDemocracy."
CraigCalhoun.(Cambridge,MA: MITP, 1992) 109-42. NancyFraser,"Politics,Culture,and
the Public Sphere: Toward a Postmodern Conception." Social Postmodernism. Beyond Identity
Politics. Eds. LindaNicholsonand StevenSeidman.(Cambridge:CambridgeUP, 1995) 287-
312. Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self. Gender, Communityand Postmodernism in Contempo-
rary Ethics. (New York:Routledge, 1992). Seyla Benhabib, Equality and Diversity in the Global
Era. (Princeton,NJ:PrincetonUP,2002). KatherineArens,"HypatiaandBeauvoir:Philosophy
as Discourse."Hypatia10.4 (1995) 46-75. Arens,"DiscourseAnalysisas CriticalHistoriogra-
phy."JuliaKristeva,"TheSystemandthe SpeakingSubject."TheKristevaReader.Ed. Toril
Moi. (New York:ColumbiaUP, 1986)24-33. RichardWolin,TheTermsof CulturalCriticism.
The FrankfurtSchool, Existentialism, Poststructuralism. (New York:Columbia UP, 1992). Rich-
ard Wolin, Labyrinths. Explorations in the Critical History of Ideas. (Amherst: U of Massachu-
settsP, 1995).
9NancyFraser,e.g., suggeststhatthemultivalentcategoryof "public"(implyingmultiple
publicsandcounter-publics) is moreresourcefulandmorecriticalthanthe categoryof "com-
munity"which often has too homogenous,if not ontologico-essentialist, connotations.As she
putsit in the introductionto her 1995essay:"Ifthe ideaof thepublicsphereis an indispensable
resourcefor the politicaltheoryof contemporary democracy,it is no less importantfor contem-
Undoing the Dialectic's Philosophical Hypocrisy 405

poraryculturecritique.The publicsphereis a site wheresocial meaningsaregenerated,circu-

lated,contested,andrestructured. [...] The conceptthusallowsus to studythe discursivecon-
structionof socialproblemsandsocialidentities.[.. .] It thusprovidesan alternativeto the sort
of free-floatingdecontextualized
social theory"(287-88).
'oTheterm"discourseanalysis"is usedin the sense of TeunvanDijk'sinstantiationof it
in journals like Discourse and Society.
" Against the backdropof the 1980s work of FrenchphenomenologistPaul Ricoeur
(1981), the CanadiantheoristCharlesTaylor(1985a; 1985b), and the Americanphilosopher
RichardBernstein(1983), suchexplorationsandnewly modifiedhermeneuticalmodelscan be
found,alongdifferentlines, in CharlesGuignon(1991), FrankRichardson,BlaineFowersand
CharlesGuignon(1999), RobertHariman(1995), andHansHerbertKigler (1996).At the same
time, the continuedworkof Ricceur(1992), Taylor(1989; 1991),andBernstein(1991) extends
directlyto the presentdebate.Forthe referencespertainingto the differentstagesof this discur-
sive development, see: Richard J. Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism. Science,
U of PennsylvaniaP, 1983).RichardJ. Bernstein,The
New Constellation. The Ethical-Political Horizons of Modernity/Postmodernity. (Cambridge,
MA:MITP, 1991).CharlesGuignon,"Pragmatism
or Hermeneutics?
dationalism." The Interpretive Turn. Philosophy, Science, Culture. Eds. D. Hiley, J. Bohman,
andR. Schusterman.(Ithaca,NY: CornellUP, 1991) 81-101. RobertHariman,PoliticalStyle.
The Artistry of Power. (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995). Kiigler, The Power of Dialogue. Paul
Ricceur, Hermeneutics and Human Sciences. Essays on Language, Action, and Interpretation.
Ed. and Trans.JohnB. Thompson.(Cambridge:CambridgeUP, 1981). FrankC. Richardson,
Blaine J. Fowers and Charles B. Guignon, Re-envisioning Psychology. Moral Dimensions of The-
ory and Practice. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999). Paul Ricceur, Oneself as Another. Trans.
KathleenBlamey.(Chicago:U of ChicagoPress, 1992).CharlesTaylor,PhilosophicalPapers:
Vol. 1. Human Agency and Language. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985a). Charles Taylor,
Philosophical Papers: Vol. 2. Philosophy and the Human Sciences. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP,
1985b).CharlesTaylor,Sourcesof theSelf (Cambridge,MA:HarvardUP, 1989).CharlesTay-
lor, "The Dialogical Self." The Interpretive Turn. Philosophy, Science, Culture. Eds. D. Hiley,
J. Bohman,andR. Schusterman.(Ithaca,NY: CornellUP, 1991)304-14.
2See, e.g.: Honneth,TheCritiqueof Power,52-56. Withrespectto the thematicfocus
of this essay,see also:Hariman,PoliticalStyle,andhis remarkon the problematiccharacterof
the "radicalseparationof artisticproductionandpoliticalpractice"(190), esp. footnote49.
13Asidefrom the well-knowndifficultiesin delineatingthe meaningof "postmodern"
(see, e.g., Best andKellner(1991), Chap.l, andPeterV.Zima(1997), Chap.1), even a general
distinctionof "modernityversuspostmodernity" has become more and more complicatedin
lightof therecentattackson postmodernists'self-understanding. Forthe latter,see, e.g., Haber-
mas's (1993) commenton whathe perceivesto be a "newideologicalshift"(Tendenzwende),
namely"theallianceof postmodernists withpremodernists" (104), or the introductionto Wolin
(1995) andhis remarkthat"whatholdsfortheright-wingcritiqueof the modernworldmustap-
ply to the left-wingcritiqueas well. Here,too, the extremesoften coalesce"(10). One can ap-
preciatethe sensitivityof these authorsto the complexitiesat handwithoutendorsingHaber-
mas's specific strategyin his familiaragendaof fulfillingthe promiseof the still unfinished
projectof modernity.Nor does one have to committo Habermas'squestionablegroupingof
authorsin this place, wherehe lists "theearlyWittgenstein,CarlSchmittof the middleperiod,
andGottfriedBennof the late period"as co-representatives of whathe definesas the factionof
"neoconservatives" (103-104). For these references,see: Steven Best and Douglas Kellner,
Postmodern Theory. Critical Interrogations. (New York: The Guilford P, 1991). Peter V. Zima,
Moderne / Postmoderne. Gesellschaft, Philosophie, Literatur. (Ttibingen/Basel: A. Francke
Verlag, 1997). JtirgenHabermas,"ModernityversusPostmodernity."
A PostmodernReader.
Eds. JosephNatoli andLindaHutcheon.(Albany,NY: StateU of New YorkP, 1993) 91-104.
Wolin, Labyrinths.
14Whilemy presentfocus is the criticalcomparisonof the respectivephilosophical
tributionsby CassirerandH/A, a moreextensivetreatmentof the parallelismbetweenthe Dia-
lectic and Heidegger's"Brieftiberden Humanismus" (1946) in particularis partof my forth-
coming dissertation, tentatively titled Heidegger's Theft of Faith: A Campaign of Suspending
406 Markus Weidler

Wegmarken. 3., durchgesehene Auflage.(Frankfurt amMain:VittorioKlostermann,1996)313-
64. Forthe translationof the latter,see: MartinHeidegger,"Letteron Humanism."
A. Capuzziand Glenn Grey.Basic Writings.2nded. Ed. David F. Krell. (New York:Harper
Collins, 1993)217-65.
'5Thisclaimfromthe 1969prefacehasbeencontested,e.g., by GiinterC. Behrmann.His
essay "DieTheorie,das Institut,die Zeitschriftunddas Buch:ZurPublikations-undWirkungs-
geschichtederKritischenTheorie1945bis 1965"marksthetenthchapterin: ClemensAlbrecht,
GiinterC. Behrmann,MichaelBock,HaraldHomann,FriedrichH. Tennbruck. Die intellektuelle
Griindung der Bundesrepublik. Eine Wirkungsgeschichte der FrankfurterSchule. (Frankfurtam
16Inthis place I correctedJohnCumming'stranslationof the Germanadjectivedunkel
whichmeans"dark"or "obscure"ratherthan"black."
17Hereandin the following,the page numbersof the Germanquotationsfromthe Dia-
lektik refer to: Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialektik derAufkliirung. Philosophi-
sche Fragmente.Ed. Rolf Tiedemann.(Frankfurt
am Main:Suhrkamp,1981) [1944]. (Theodor
W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften. Bd. 3).
the Prefaceto: Cassirer,MythicalThoughtxiii-xviii. Cassireris moreoutspoken
abouthis sourcesand openlyacknowledgesthe relevanceof Schelling(andHegel) rightfrom
the start.
19Fora good shortsynopsis,see the introductionto: LawrenceS. Stepelvich,ed., The
YoungHegelians.AnAnthology.(Cambridge,NY:CambridgeUP,1983).See also:KarlLiwith,
From Hegel to Nietzsche. The Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Thought. Trans. David E.
Green.(New York:ColumbiaUP, 1991)53-135. Cf. also thecomprehensive sociologicalanaly-
sis of the YoungHegelians'overallprofileandinternaldynamicsas an "intellectualgroup"in:
Wolfgang EI3bach,Die Junghegelianer. Soziologie einer Intellektuellengruppe. (Mtinchen: Wil-
helm Fink, 1988).
20Forthe firsttime theydo so in relationto the followingremark:"Everyspiritualresis-
tanceit [theEnlightenment] encountersservesmerelyto increaseits strength.Whichmeansthat
enlightenmentstill recognizesitself even in myths"(6).Afterthe firstsentence,footnote5 is in-
serted: "Cf. Hegel, Phinomenologie des Geistes (The Phenomenology ofSpirit), Werke, Vol. II,
pp. 410ff."
21As yet anothersurprisingomission, no referenceis made to Benjamin'sessay "The
Workof Artin theAge of MechanicalReproduction" (1936),whichdealtwiththenotionof aura
as one of its key themes.Perhapsmostblatantin thisregardis H/A's speakingof the "angelwith
the fiery swordwho drovemanout of paradiseandonto the pathof technicalprogress"(180),
as the counter-imageto Benjamin's"angelof history"(afterPaul Klee's painting"Angelus
Novus").The latteris put forthin Thesis IX of the Theseson the Philosophyof History,in:
Walter Benjamin, Illuminations. Essays and Reflections. Ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn.
(New York:Schocken,1969)253-264.
22See:H/A's footnote23 andfootnote24, Dialectic 19.
Section Three"Elementsof Anti-Semitism,"subsectionIV: "Anti-
23 See particularly,
Semitismis all thatthe GermanChristianshaveretainedof the religionof love"(176).
24My presentnotionof Hegelianandpost-HegelianChristologyis drawnfromthe clas-
sical study: Hans Kiing, The Incarnation Of God. An Introduction to Hegel's Thought as Prole-
gomenato a FutureChristology.Trans.J.R.Stephenson(Edinburgh: T&TClark,1987).Forthe
Hegel-Schellingconnectionin this context,see especiallythe fourthchapter:"Thusthe trans-
formationof thetheologianintothephilosopher,whichwas broughtaboutby Hegel'sentryinto
a new intellectualworldandby his associationwith Schelling,is simplya fact. However,the
comparisonof the JenaDifferencewith the Frankfurtwritingsdemonstratesthatit is equallya
factthatHegelremainedthe sameamidstthe change[. . .]. A deepcontinuitylies hiddenbeneath
all the changebetweenFrankfurtand Jena"(150). "Nowhereis the continuedpresenceof a
Christianpast in Hegel more plainly manifestedthan in the questionof Christology"(162).
"Readersof Hegel'sPhenomenologyeasilyforgethis indebtednessnotonly to Fichtebutalso to
Schelling [. . .]. Only if we refrain from the long-standing customary habit [. .] of unwarrantably
devaluingSchellinganddegradinghimto the level of forerunner
of the messiah,do we havethe
right(whichwe intendto exercisethroughoutthis whole book)to showhow Hegel alwayscon-
tinuedto ploughhis own furrow"(154).
Undoing the Dialectic's Philosophical Hypocrisy 407

25Quoting from Hegel's Erste Druckschriften (Volume I, in the Lasson-Hoffmeister Crit-

ical Edition)of whichthereis no Englishtranslation,Kiingpointsout:"Schelling'sinfluenceis
againdiscerniblein the fact thatthis intuitionof the Absoluteoccursin art(to whichreligionis
to be reckonedto belongas its livingenactment)andin speculation:'Theessenceof bothartand
speculationis divinein service;forbotharea livingintuitionof absolutelife andconsequentially
a unionwithit'" (I, 91)" (163).
26Thisis not recognizedin mostof the secondaryliteratureon philosophyin the era,but
does correspondclosely to the concernsin muchworkon the era, includingDurkheim'sEle-
mentary Forms of Religious Life and the essays collected by Dennis Hollier in The College ofSo-
ciology. See: Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Carol Cosman
(Oxford:OxfordUP, 2001). Dennis Hollier,ed., The College of Sociology(1937-39), trans.
Betsy Wing (Minneapolis:U of MinnesotaP, 1988).I recognizethatCassirer'stextsfromexile
wereproducedunderdifferentcircumstancesthanwerethoseof H/A, butI believethatthispre-
World-War-II workon religionandsymbolsunderpinsall of thetextsunderdiscussionhere.H/A
wanttheirtext to be perceivedas originalor anomalous,whereI amarguingit as partof a tradi-
tion whose memorywas consciouslysuppressedby H/A afterWorldWarII on theirreturnto
Germany;thatthistraditionis associatedwithFranceandwithBenjaminmayalso motivatethis
27 Forthe purposesof this inquiry,see particularly
PartI andPartIIIof this work.
28ErnstCassirer,LanguageandMyth.Trans.SusanneK. Langer.(New York:Harperand
Bros., 1946) [1925]. Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy ofSymbolic Forms. Ernst Cassirer, The Myth
of the State. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1946). Ernst Cassirer, Symbol, Myth, Culture. Essays and
Lectures of Ernst Cassirer, 1935-1945. Ed. Donald Phillip Verene. (New Haven: Yale UP,
29ForCassirer'sprogrammatic alignmentwith Husserlianphenomenologyin opposition
to the genetic derivationschemesof psychologism,see the long and importantfootnote7, in
MythicalThought:"Itis one of the fundamentalachievementsof EdmundHusserl'sphenome-
nologyto havesharpenedonceagainourperceptionof thediversityof cultural"structural forms"
and to have pointedout a new approachto them, departingfrom the psychologicalmethod"
(II, 12).Hereandin thefollowing,whenquotingfromCassirer'sPhilosophyofSymbolicForms,
I prefacethe page numberwith a Romannumeralto indicatethe volume.
30Cassirer gives one of his most extensivedefinitionsof form, as he compares"thesys-
tem of scientificconcepts"with "otherforms"(I, 77-78): "Everyauthenticfunctionof the hu-
manspirithasthisdecisivecharacteristic in commonwithcognition:it does notmerelycopy but
ratherembodiesan original,formativepower.It does not expresspassivelythe mere fact that
somethingis presentbut containsan independentenergyof the humanspiritthroughwhichthe
simplepresenceof the phenomenonassumesa definite'meaning,'a particularideationalcon-
tent"(I, 78). Fortheformof mythin particular, see: "Toseek a 'form'of mythicalconsciousness
in this sense, meansto inquireneitherafterits ultimatemetaphysicalcausenorafterits psycho-
logical,historical,or socialcauses:it is solelyto seektheunityof thespiritualprincipleby which
all its particularconfigurations,with all theirvast empiricaldiversity,appearto be governed"
(II, 11-12).
31 See: "[I]tis characteristic
of myththatdespiteall the 'spirituality'of its objectsand
contents,its 'logic'-theform of its contents-clings to bodies"(II, 59).
32 See: "Regardless of whatspecificexplanationis offeredfor the significanceandorigin
of totemism[. . .] [it] mustbe rootedin someuniversaltendencyin the 'logic' of mythicalthink-
ing, in the generalformanddirectionof its conceptandclass formation"(II, 179).See alsoCas-
sirer'sinitialstatementin the firstvolumewherehe contrastshis generalnotionof culturallog-
ics with the traditionalnarrowone: "Butbesidesthis intellectualsynthesis,whichoperatesand
expressesitself withina systemof scientificconcepts,the life of the humanspiritas a whole
knowsotherforms.Theytoo can be designatedas modesof 'objectivization': i.e., as meansof
raisingthe particularto the level of the universallyvalid;buttheyachievethis universalvalidity
by methodsentirelydifferentfromthe logicalconceptandlogical law"(I, 77-78).
33Forthisexpression,see: "Inthelastanalysisthisunity[= everyspiritualunityof mean-
ing] mustbe establishednot in a geneticandcausalbut in a teleologicalsense-as a direction
followedby consciousnessin constructingspiritualreality"(II,20). Cf. also his remarkon Kant
and"theactualtelos of knowledge"(III,6).
34See:"Andhere the characteristichypostatizationessential to all mythicalthinking
408 Markus Weidler

standsout evenmoresharply;forit is notonly concrete,perceptibleobjectswhosegenesisis ex-

plainedin this way buthighlycomplex,mediatedformalrelations"(II, 54).
35 As Cassirerspecifies:"mythical thinkingknowsonly a simplemetamorphosis (takenin
the Ovidian,not in the Goetheansense)"(II,46).
36Cf.esp. Cassirer'sremarkaboutthe "indeterminacy surrounding the particular" in sci-
entificcausalexplanation:"Eventhoughourcausalconceptsaredirectedtowardthe apprehen-
sion and specificationof the particular[. . .], neverthelessthey alwaysleave a certainsphere
of indeterminacysurroundingthe particular.For preciselyas conceptsthey cannotexhaust
concrete-intuitive existenceandevents;[. . .] Henceeveryparticularis indeedsubjectto theuni-
versalbutcannotbe fully deducedfromit alone"(II,48).
37 This critiqueis mostfamiliarandmostoften quotedfrom"Onthe 'Geniusof the Spe-
cies'", in: FriedrichNietzsche,TheGayScience.Trans.WalterKaufmann.(New York:Vintage
Books, 1974) 297-300. In this place, Nietzsche'scriticismof languageas being reducedto an
expedientof mostefficientcommunicationaccordingto the standardsof "socialor herdutility"
(299), is echoedby H/A almostverbatim.
38Notonly do H/A herefail to referencethe "positive"side of Nietzschein the firstplace.
Theoveralltheoreticalimportof Nietzscheanideasis too centralfortheDialectic'sagendato be
compatiblewith the glib dismissalas a proponentof "bourgeoiscruelty,"whichhe receivesin
39ForfurtherstatementsillustratingH/A's lingeringbondto Marxistreductionism,see
the followingpassagestowardthe endof SectionTwo:"Cultureis a paradoxicalcommodity.So
completelyis it subjectto the law of exchangethatit is no longerexchanged;[. . .] Thereforeit
amalgamateswith advertising.The moremeaninglessthe latterseems to be undera monopoly,
the moreomnipotentit becomes.Themotivesare markedlyeconomic"(161) [emphasisadded].
Evenmoreexplicitis the followingstatement:"Butfreedomto choosean ideology-since ide-
ology always reflectseconomiccoercion-everywhere provesto be freedomto choose whatis
alwaysthe same"(166-67) [emphasisadded].Hereit againbecomesclearerthatH/A conceive
of the ideologicalsuperstructure as fully determinedby the economicmechanismsinherentin
the materialbase.
40H/Ause that term in illustratingthe first-levelcorruptionof art with respectto the
movie industry:"Anylogical connectioncallingfor mentaleffortis painstakinglyavoided.As
far as possible,developmentmustfollow fromthe immediatelyprecedingsituationand never
fromthe idea of the whole. [. . .] Banalthoughelaboratesurpriseinterruptsthe story-line[sic].
The tendencyto fall back on purenonsense[. . .] is most obviousin the unpretentious kinds"
41Forthe vicissitudesof this transitoryphase,see: HermannGlaser,TheRubbleYears.
(New York:ParagonHouse, 1986).Of particularinterestfor the presentassessmentof the Dia-
lectic are,in PartI, the section"JourneysthroughBleakestandInnermostGermany"(25-40)
and,in PartII, the section"Tothe LivingSpirit"(131-198).
42Fora comprehensive synopsisof thedifferentthematicstrandsin thisdevelopment,see:
Wolfgang Benz, Zwischen Hitler und Adenauer. Studien zur deutschen Nachkriegsgesellschaft.
(Frankfurtam Main:FischerTaschenbuchVerlag,1991). See also the Handbuch:Wolfgang
Benz, ed., Deutschland unter alliierter Besatzung 1945-1949/55. (Berlin: Akademie Verlag,
43Fora recentcritiqueof theuses andabusesof thatconcept,see:StephenBrockmannand
Frank Trommler, eds., Revisiting Zero Hour 1945. The Emergence of Postwar German Culture.
(Washington,DC: AmericanInstitutefor Contemporary GermanStudies,1996). In this place,
see esp. StephenBrockmann's openingessay "GermanCultureat the 'ZeroHour,'"(8-40).
44InKiigler,ThePowerof Dialogue,thistermis loosely associatedwiththenamesof "the
later Heidegger,the early Foucault,and Derrida"(10). Comparingthe "antiphilosophers" to
philosophicalfoundationalists, Kigler ascribesto the former"acritiquethatis just as incapable
of identifyingits ownpremisesas it is of accountingforits ownpositionof criticaldissentwithin
the spaceit has ontologicallyposited.Whereasthefoundationalists standtoo heavilyon the sup-
posedlyunshakablegroundthatupholdsthem,the 'antiphilosophers' areno longercapableof
revealingto us the locus fromwhichtheircriticalvoice reachesus"(10-11).