Adorno experienced an impossibility:

“For one thing is undoubtedly true: I told you that, where there is no longer life, the temptation to mistake its remnants for the absolute, for flashes of meaning, is extremely great – and I do not wish to take that back. Nevertheless, nothing can be even experienced as living if it does not contain a promise of something transcending life. This transcendence therefore is, and at the same time is not – and beyond that contradiction it is no doubt very difficult, and probably impossible, for thought to go.”

The promise of something transcending life, which makes life possible in the first place, has become, for Adorno, a contradiction, that takes the form of a place where there is no passage, and yet we have to move through it, what the Greek philosophers (who ontologised the rhetorical figure of speech by that name) called an aporia, an impasse, perplexity. Life is the promise of something that is more than what life has become: that is necessary and at the same time is has become impossible.

The promise of a transcending requires a limit, in the Hegelian sense of a “Grenze”, a border, which implies that which lies beyond it. Hegel compared a mouse in a closed room, running in circles along its four walls, and the prisoner in her cell, whose head is already through the wall. When the dialectics of the promise is no longer there, incarceration becomes indistinguishable from freedom.

Freedom therefore always means liberation. Adorno experienced the disappearance of freedom as liberation, its identification with incarceration (the administered world) and felt swept back into the impasse of the ‘is’ and ‘is not’ of transcendence.

That impasse is precisely the place of what we may call ‘classical philosophy’, or with another word: idealism. Some feel at home there (I tend to think Lacan does). Adorno felt forced to return home, whereas he wanted to move out. His desire was frustrated, and in that sense he experienced a ‘remnant of life’; in his wisdom he understood it must not be absolutised. And there a limit was reached, a wall to which the other side was only text.

When the materiality of life loses its promise, philosophy becomes its placeholder: “Philosophy, which once seemed overtaken, remains alive because the moment of its realisation was missed” (Adorno, Negative Dialectics).

Materialism, then, is the ars moriendi of philosophy.




  1. Hi Johan I’ve been inspired to read your Blog and whats interesting as well as the text is that you have adverts on it. This happened to me – you have to pay word press £20 quid a year to stop them putting them on. This is an interesting thing in it’s own way relating to the post because we have to pay to not have the site commercialized and we have an add for Celebrities who don’t like stylists. WordPress appears to be free but we have to pay to keep it so.

    1. Tanks for pointing that out — I will have to do that then.

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