Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Standford, CA: Standford University Press, 2002.

Horkheimer and Adorno argue that the Enlightment, or “the advance of thought,” does not liberate humanity from the natural world through understanding, but increases nature's domination over man by further alienating him from his surroundings. As such, Enlightened thought is not radically different from the myths and magic that preceded it. The first chapter addresses the main argument and provides a framework for its basic movements, while the second chapter examines the story of Odysseus as an allegory for the dialectical relationship between the Enlightenment, myth, and nature. The following section develops a mode of thinking that directly relates Kant's “instrumental reason,” or the foundation of Enlightened thought, with fascism (i.e. the culmination, or pinnacle of the Enlightenment). “The Culture Industry” chapter demonstrates how culture homogenizes and dominates man via exchange, as well as the manner in which culture and power interrelate. Important to the German philosophers' argument within this portion of the book is that we imitate “cultural commodities” at the same time we “recognize [them] as false.” Toward the end of the chapter, the authors' analysis of art and language and their complicity with the culture industry is also beneficial. Chapter five further explores the Enlightenment-fascist connection, specifically the Germna predilection toward anti-Semitism. In the final chapter, Horkheimer and Adorno investigate a variety of topics in a fragmentary style, similar to Minima Moralia; topics in this section include the prison system, the division of labor, and man's relation to animals.

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