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What Theodor Adorno Wrought

Judith Butler is the perfect recipient for a prize named after the patron saint of obfuscation

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Judith Butler. (Getty Images)

When word came in May that Berkeley professor Judith Butler was this year’s winner of the prestigious Adorno Prize, a small storm predictably ensued. But conspicuously missing from the discussion has been the figure perhaps more important than all others: the prize’s namesake himself.

In the 43 years since his sudden death, the spirit of Adorno, the godfather of critical theory, has presided over not only many corners of scholarly life but over large swaths of popular culture as well. Any attempt to reevaluate Adorno, and these still break out habitually in graduate seminars, tends to orbit around a few key points, by now familiar. His writing, depending on one’s point of view, is either deliciously challenging or needlessly obfuscating; he disdained popular culture, particularly popular music, while bothering to listen to very little of it, which is either the mark of an uncompromising maverick or a poor scholar; and he was either a cheerless snob who contemplated impossibly pure utopias and disdained practicalities or a visionary who used theory to tame and reshape the world. All these, to an extent, are fascinating arguments, but they hardly explain the longevity of Adorno’s mystique.

His work, however, might. Adorno’s spirit lives on just as vividly in Butler’s boorish detractors as it does in Butler herself; to understand it, and its unexpected influence, we would be well-advised to review the master’s work.

***

“Life,” declares the epigram to Minima Moralia, Adorno’s 1951 collection of aphorisms, “does not live.” It’s a curious quotation, originally by the Austrian writer Ferdinand Kürnberger, and Adorno soon gets around to providing something by way of explanation. “The Fascist regimes of the first half of the 20th century have absurdly stabilized an obsolete economic form, multiplying the terror and misery the latter required for its continued preservation, now that its senselessness is plain as day,” he writes later in the book.

Private life however is also marked by this. Along with the reach of administration, the asphyxiating social order of the private, the particularism of interests, the long since obsolete form of the family, the right of property and its reflection in the character have all been shored up once more. But with a bad conscience, the barely disguised consciousness of untruth. Whatever was once good and proper in what was bourgeois—independence, persistence, thinking ahead, consideration—is rotten to its innermost core. For while bourgeois forms of existence are doggedly preserved, their economic prerequisites have fallen away. That which is private has gone over completely into that privation, which it secretly always was, and the stubborn grip on one’s own interest is intermingled with the rage that one is no longer capable of perceiving that things could be different and better. The bourgeoisie have lost their naïvété, and for that reason have become wholly obdurate and malevolent.

One imagines how titillating it must have been, and still might be, for some among the scholarly class—staffed, as it so frequently is, by the sons and the daughters of the bourgeoisie—to crack open Adorno’s slim volume and discover that they were not merely trapped in false consciousness, as traditional Marxist thought might argue, but altogether devoid of subjectivity, evil specters incapable of doing anything but haunting the prospects of civilization.

These malevolent middlings are in good company: In his other great work, Philosophy of Modern Music, Adorno has this to say about his bête noire, Stravinsky: “The artist does not converge with the lyric subject. In essentially pre-bourgeois Russia the category of the subject was not quite so firmly fitted together as in the Western countries. The factor of alienation—particularly in Dostoevsky—originated in the non-identity of the ego with itself: not one of the brothers Karamzov is a ‘character.’ Stravinsky, as a product of the late bourgeoisie, has at his command such pre-subjectivity that he is finally able to validate the decline of the subject.”

The composer of The Rite of Spring, then, isn’t merely mistaken in his approach to music, but incapable, by virtue of being Russian, of possessing anything approaching the glorious complexities of the human subject. Such right is reserved largely to Germans: The entire book, more or less, is a study contrasting Stravinsky, who is accused of all manner of depravity, with Adorno’s beloved Schoenberg. But Schoenberg himself wasn’t very impressed with the analysis: “It is disgusting, by the way, how he treats Stravinsky,” the composer wrote to a friend. “I am certainly no admirer of Stravinsky, although I like a piece of his here and there very much—one should not write like that.”

One, indeed, should not. In a critique of Adorno, Charles Rosen noted the philosopher’s systematic adherence to a pejorative vocabulary; his comfort with the sort of racist, essentialist argument that pins a composer’s entire work on the accident of having been born in one place rather than the other; and his readiness to pass sweeping judgment based on a small sample of work. “If a composer simplifies his style for a particular work or group of works,” Rosen wrote, “this is immediately called either ‘regression’ or ‘infantilism.’ ”

If this approach sounds familiar, it’s perhaps because it is the one favored by most nabobs who tweet, blog, Tumbl, like, poke, and otherwise pollute public discourse with ignorant and inflammatory pronouncements. And as is so often the case with dynasties, the children have none of the father’s luster: While Adorno occasionally made up for his failings with bouts of genuine brilliance, those who swear by him do not. He, for example, reversed Hegel’s view of history to argue that the course of human events is not one of progress but rather, to borrow my colleague Adam Kirsch’s phrase, a process devoted to “the inevitable working-out of a historical dialectic that culminates in Nazism”; allow capitalism and culture to sufficiently numb its citizens into acquiescence, and another Hitler will inevitably rise. The contemporary loons who troll the Net and are fond of comparing anything or anyone to Hitler are merely continuing in the same tradition, substituting Adorno’s theoretical underpinnings, flawed as they might have been, for sheer, dumb rage.

The same, it must be said, also goes for some of Butler’s critics. Focusing on a few utterances made in response to questions in a public lecture that may or may not have been misunderstood is a move Adorno himself would have recognized, having done more or less the same to Debussy, say, in his book. But most of us have been taught somewhere in the dawn of our development as social beings, once the generalizations and name-callings come out, it is very hard for civilized conversation to persist.

To counter all this nastiness, we need thinkers who speak in clear and compassionate voices.

This is certainly not Adorno: “Even the blossoming tree,” he wrote in one of his most memorable passages, “lies the moment its bloom is seen without the shadow of terror; even the innocent ‘How lovely!’ becomes an excuse for an existence outrageously unlovely, and there is no longer beauty or consolation except in the gaze falling on horror, withstanding it, and in unalleviated consciousness of negativity holding fast to the possibility of what is better.” This is the zealot’s view, denying the possibility of grace and joy in this world and placing it squarely in some shining and distant afterlife. And we’ve zealots aplenty. What we direly lack are thinkers capable of nuance, cautious with their condemnations, and committed to rejecting abstractions and focusing instead on the sweaty, imperfect, and complicated lump that is, in all its glory, mankind.

Butler need not apply. Whatever her merits as a thinker and a scholar—and those should be debated not by dogmatic brawlers but by her peers and by those who take the trouble to carefully consider her work—Butler is very much an adherent of Adorno’s method. As my friend Todd Gitlin rightly noted, Butler’s writing doesn’t consist of “sentences that carry propositions” but rather produces “a whiff of the burning of incense before an idol called ‘theory.’ ” In her most recent book, for example, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, she writes about very concrete problems in very ephemeral ways. “It may be that binationalism is an impossibility, but that mere fact does not suffice as a reason to be against it,” goes one typical passage. “Binationalism is not just an ideal ‘to come’—something we might hope to arrive in a more ideal future, but a wretched fact that is being lived out as a specific historical form of settler colonialism and the proximities and exclusions it reproduces through the daily military and regulatory practices of occupation.”

Is binationalism, then, an ideal to behold or a grim reality to amend? Butler seems to suggest that it is both. Some may see such an approach as valuable for its questioning of modes of discourse, its problematizing of popular notions, and other strictly theoretical achievements. But Israelis and Palestinians are not theoretical constructs. They’re human beings, and their predicaments demand more than abstractions. Former generations of intellectuals attempted, sometimes admirably and sometimes less so, to apply their ideas in the service of earthly goals. Edmund Wilson refused to pay income tax for more than a decade to protest the United States’ Cold War policies. Dwight Macdonald led a march on the Pentagon, which he hoped to levitate in an effort to end the Vietnam war. Butler, by her own admission, remains “not completely immersed in the world.” This is a pity. And in a very real way, it makes her a perfect recipient for prize named after Theodor Adorno.

***

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julis123 says:

For me she typifies the Far Left wing American or European Jew. Before these people write volumes about bi-nationalism maybe they should try talking some of the 850,000 Jews ethnically cleansed from Arab countries and see how that whole Jews living under Arab rule thing worked out. The only place on the middle east where Jews and Arabs live in something resembling harmony is in Israel.

wishnitz says:

I gave up reading this article after a couple of paragraphs. As a matter of fact, as soon as the author called Judith Butler’ detractors “boorish”, I knew where he was going with his obfuscation. Philosophers living in Berkeley and magazine authors in New York have the freedom to criticize and judge things that will not cause them an hour’s sleep. Those jews who lived in Europe when the nazi horrors started did not have this luxury. The few survivors of that catastrophe founded Israel to defend all jews and to have a safe haven when the ideas espoused by Butler overcome their compatriots, They will scorn and ignore Butler and the likes of Leibowitz.

herbcaen says:

This sad episode is another reason why donors should not donate to liberal arts causes, rather to medicine, hard sciences, and mathematics. If I stated that magnesium and manganese were identical, I would be laughed out of academia. However, if one calls for a boycott of Israel, one gets promotions, awards and fame. Judith Butler has not done anything positive for humanity, except grace computer screens with her scary visage

gwhepner says:

BERKELEY
WITHOUT THE BISHOP

A
masterpiece has got to undermine

itself
or hardly will be credible,

and
so you must make vinegar from wine,

treat
rotten vegetables as edible,

the
mountains must be leveled to the plain

and
dirt collected and no longer sifted,

and
you must join the dwarves when they complain:

“The heroine was Snow White but she drifted.”

Malevolently
in a manic muddle,

Adorno,
joined by Judith Butler, his prize winner,

whom
she embraces in a Hitler huddle,

sees
holocaustically the world as sinner

if
it attempts to find redemption where

it
can’t be found. How odd it is such views

are
ones a Berkeley Judith seems to share,

like
Berkeley with herself immersed, not Jews.

gwhepner@yahoo.com

Heloisa Pait says:

I couldn’t avoid reading this article. It reminded me of the days I spent at the NYU library reading about Arendt and Heidegger’s relationship. Don’t you guys think these subjects form some sort of “Jewish pornography”? I mean, “Butler on Israel” is to thought more or less what X-rated movies are to love…

JacobArnon says:

For all her pretentious to be a theoretical thinker, Butler has a one dimensional mind. This is why she can not counter intelligent criticism of her work. This is also why she accuses her critics of trying to limit her freedom of speech.

Butler is taken seriously only by her followers. She is the leader of a cult.

jacob_arnon says:

You can’t blame Adorno for Butler’s insane bigotry.

berger says:

So you just wrote that Adorno was a “zealot” who rejected “the possibility of grace and joy in this world and placing it squarely in some shining and distant afterlife.” Squarely. That’s what you just wrote.

Undermining the one Jewish state in the world, celebrating and joining with its terrorist enemies, fawning to the worst enemies the Jewish people has ever known Judith Butler certainly deserves the label of ‘Anti- Jewish Jew’.

We have always had traitors. Goes back to the golden calf. Right through this woman and Anna Baltzer, queen of hamas

Wow. Good job writing a whole article about Adorno and failing to mention the word “dialectic.” (It does show up in a quote, but the word might as well be in Swahili for all that it penetrates the rest of the text.) The reason Adorno’s writing is so difficult is that: a) he wrote (and thought) in German, and its very hard to translate him into idiomatic English; and b) he is pathologically nuanced, with every outrageous attack balanced by a melancholy retreat, and every vicious condemnation of a class enemy balanced by a regretful recognition of the same failings in a trusted friend. (The fact that Schoenberg didn’t like Adorno’s book on new music had little to do with the way it treated Stravinsky, who Schoenberg was as happy to disparage as Stravinsky was catty about him) — Schoenberg was too thin-skinned even to recognize Adorno’s dialectical championing of his music as “praise.” “A message in a bottle from the shipwreck of mankind.” Um, thanks — I think?

Jacob Arnon says:

“But the commentary thread on this piece is way beyond that interesting critical question — it’s pretty scary in its harsh chauvinism and anti-Semitism (as Adorno would have been happy to point out, Arabs are Semites, too). The negative dialectic is alive and well.”

Sorry Fink, Adorno was never fooled by people who claimed that Arabs could not be “antisemitic” because they spoke Semitic languages. He knew that antisemitism especially in Europe was directed at Jews and not at Arabs. The Jerusalem Mufti during WW2 who lived in Berlin and was a friend of Hitler knew that too.

Adorno cared about Israel and was bothered by left wing antisemitism as he made clear in his private correspondence.

Also the reason Adorno’s writing is “difficult” is not because he wrote in German, but because he was trying to make some subtle distinctions between his notion of dialectic and Hegel’s and he wasn’t always successful.

.

TomJV says:

“Is binationalism, then, an ideal to behold or a grim reality to amend? Butler seems to suggest that it is both. Some may see such an approach as valuable for its questioning of modes of discourse, its problematizing of popular notions, and other strictly theoretical achievements. But Israelis and Palestinians are not theoretical constructs. They’re human beings, and their predicaments demand more than abstractions.”

Is the author arguing against binationalism1, because it is an abstraction or is he claiming that the rather vague suggestion2 of Butler – who is herself unaffected3 by the Israel-Palestine situation – is rather decadent?
If the second then I totally agree.

1 The last 2 phrases made me think that.

2 Not even statement, but suggestion

3 Except maybe for some of her tax-dollars going somewhere somehow connected with the Israel-Palestine situation.

I gpt here through aldaily.
Did Judith Butler beat up aldaily and take its lunch money when they were kids? I agree that she can’t write for beans, but give it a rest, Portal.

The level of misunderstanding of Butler, mainly in these comment, is upsetting. The fact that her contributions to gender equality and transgender advocacy are not even mentioned in the article is a surprising oversight – considering her importance in those fields. Labelling her an anti-semite for being critical of the occupation is IDENTICAL to labelling someone a misogynist for being critical of her. I would recommend to any curious reader her own defence against the assertions made against her following her receipt of the Adorno award: http://mondoweiss.net/2012/08/judith-butler-responds-to-attack-i-affirm-a-judaism-that-is-not-associated-with-state-violence.html

Throwaway says:

This is a reprehensible hack-job. Professor Leibovitz does a serious disservice to his profession, his current institution, and his field, not to mention the entire intellectual community. I was under the impression that Tablet published serious efforts to mediate scholarly work with vernacular culture. It is beyond my understanding how this piece, which would not pass muster even in many undergraduate courses, could merit publication here. Let me point out what, to my mind, are the greatest crimes this piece commits.

1) Leibovitz seriously errs when he alleges that most discussion of/around Adorno tends to focus on a few well-rehearsed points. I recommend Leibovitz take the time and professional responsibility to read the late Miriam Hansen’s recently published book, “Cinema and Experience: Kracauer, Benjamin, and Adorno.” In what will likely become a standard work on the intellectual nexus between these three minds, the famed Frankfurt school, and modernity itself, Hansen draws out one of the clearest exegeses (that I know of) of the enduring relevance of Adorno’s thought, and indeed, the shocking prescience of his work. What’s more, Hansen achieves this by illuminating less well-worn areas of his work.

2) I will pass over the absurdity of Professor Leibovitz’s implication that a critical theorist is, apparently, disengaged with “practicalities” (either the good Leibovitz is unaware of the literally life-or-death circumstances under which people like Adorno, Benjamin, and Kracauer worked, or he has chosen to ignore it; I am unsure which).

3) I will also pass over Professor Leibovitz’s professional dishonesty in cherry-picking quotations a few lines in length from the depths of extremely rigorous and often intricate frameworks of thought and casting them in deceptive light. If a VAP at Steinhardt engages in such malpractice, one fears indeed for the future of scholarly research. For my own part, I would like to examine Leibovitz’s work, pick at random a few choice quotes, and make merry with them.

4) I am especially disappointed with Professor Leibovitz’s glibness when he casually passes over the historically contingent nature of Adorno’s work, which, as anyone who has bothered to seriously engage with either Critical Theory (in its specific sense) or the work of the Frankfurt School will be aware, is a key linchpin to making sense of Adorno’s thought.

5) Finally, I would advise Professor Leibovitz to consider another profession. If he seeks to be a “public intellectual,” he should perhaps pay more attention to such efforts. If, on the other hand, he hopes or intends to represent his field and profession with any seriousness of intent, or even attempt to do justice to it, then he may want to refrain from misrepresenting the discourse of scholarly work. It is quite galling to observe an alleged scholar fail to recognise that every field has its terminological peculiarities; one does not take a physician to task for using indecipherable jargon. Yet heaven forbid a philosopher or a humanist use terminology specific to their work! For that makes them masters of obfuscation!

Shameful.

Throwaway says:

Your comment and attitude indicate that you don’t know anything of Butler’s work, or of Adorno’s work, or in fact anything that you’re talking about. Perhaps it’s wiser to remain silent than advertise your ludicrous ignorance.

By the way, the “hard science” and mathematics are very much a part of the liberal arts, as is medical science. But I’m sure you were aware of that.

Oh, and please point out who has done an equivalent of conflating Magnesium and Manganese. Or are you one of those who mistakes critique of Israel’s foolhardy politics with anti-Semitism?

Yan Kancuch says:

What an outrageously false reading of this Adorno quote:

“‘there is no longer beauty or
consolation except in the gaze falling on horror, withstanding it, and
in unalleviated consciousness of negativity holding fast to the
possibility of what is better.’ This is the zealot’s view, denying the
possibility of grace and joy in this world and placing it squarely in
some shining and distant afterlife.”

Adorno’s point is that beauty is deception only when it forgets, masks, and *excuses or justifies* ugliness. (How could that be any clearer?–”the moment its bloom is seen *without the shadow* of terror” and when it “becomes an excuse for” the existence of the unlovely.”)

His entire point is that beauty must acknowledge that it has its place “squarely,” not in some other world, but it in this deeply imperfect, often unlovely one–that beauty must be a critique of ugliness, not its disavowal or compensation.

Is the author of the article too incompetent to realize his criticism attributes to the text the a view that is the *exact opposite* of the point it explicitly underlines twice? Or is the author just a dishonest interpreter, the kind of zealot he claims to abhor?

Without commenting on the incredible lack of philosophical insight: Let me just ask you… are you really serious with that whole “Adorno always preferred german” bollocks – and bring up an austrian jew as your example? Great.

Fat_Man says:

Judith Butler, (dubbed by Martha Nussbaum: “The Professor of Piffle”) is a Marxist. Theodor Adorno was a Marxist. So giving Butler a prize named after Adorno seems appropriate to me. Of course, I hate Marxism in all of its varieties including, Butler and Adorno. (I use the terms leftism, socialism, and Marxism interchangeably because, in my view they are all the same shitty vodka with different labels).

However, Butler, although nominally Jewish, is like all good little Marxists, anti-Zionist, and pro-Palestinian.

A political wag once said that anti-semitism is the socialism of fools. I think he was wrong. Anti-semitism is not the socialism of fools, it is socialism. Antisemitism is not an accident of socialism, it is part of its essence.

Socialism asserts the primacy of the social collective over the individual. It sees the socialist state as the only legitimate connection among individuals, who can have no existence outside of the socialist state.

Judaism insists on the connections among Jews and between them and God. Socialism rejects the validity of intra-ethnic connections and the idea of God. Socialism will accept individual Jews, but only if they renounce Judaism.

European Jewish Zionism began with socialist Jews like Herzl, who tried to square this circle by locating a socialist state of Jews in the historic land of Israel. Herzl’s first Zionist propaganda was a socialist utopia: “Alte Neue Land”. And, at Israel’s inception, the Zionists tried to create a socialist state. The kibbutzes, which were its core, were some of the most thoroughgoing experiments in socialist living ever.

However, dreams die hard. Socialism always fails and so it did in Israel, where the socialist state has been dismantled, and the kibbutzes have been liquidated or privatized. Further, many of the Jewish refugees from Europe and Muslim countries turned out be more interested in Judaism and its traditions than socialism.

The remaining Jewish Socialists are a sad lot. The largest portion of the Israeli public now rejects them. Unfortunately many of them are academics like Butler, Finklestein, Chomsky, and the late Tony Judt (may his name be blotted out) who have many routes to afflict their fellow Jews who have remained faithful to the Jewish people and their religion.

The left originally embraced the Palestinians on orders from the Soviet Union, which decided that backing them served its geo-political ambitions. They blacklisted Israel when it abandoned socialism. The Soviet Union is gone, but the malady lingers on. And it will until socialism is extirpated from intellectual life in the Western world.

I’m outraged at the treatment of trolling loons in this article. Insincerity and mental illness do not necessarily render an argument unsound–only a Nazi would think that.

Jacob Arnon says:

“This is a reprehensible hack-job. Professor Leibovitz does a serious disservice to his profession, his current institution, and his field, not to mention the entire intellectual community. I was under the impression that Tablet published serious efforts to mediate scholarly work with vernacular culture. It is beyond my understanding how this piece, which would not pass muster even in many undergraduate courses, could merit publication here. Let me point out what, to my mind, are the greatest crimes this piece commits.”

This is a joke, right, “Throwaway?”

Did Butler hire you to write this pseudo defense of “Adorno?”

This bit gives the game way:

“4) I am especially disappointed with Professor Leibovitz’s glibness when he casually passes over the historically contingent nature of Adorno’s work, which, as anyone who has bothered to seriously engage with either Critical Theory (in its specific sense) or the work of the Frankfurt School will be aware, is a key linchpin to making sense of Adorno’s thought.”

For someone like Butler whose whole work is a-historical this is rich, “Throwaway.”

Jacob Arnon says:

Mathew, links to the antisemitic Modnoweiss-ass’ blog and complains that people see Butler who has published there alongside neo-Nazis also as an antisemite.

“Labelling her an anti-semite for being critical of the occupation is IDENTICAL to labelling someone a misogynist for being critical of her.”

Butler isn’t just critical of the occupation she is against the existence of a Jewish State. This is what makes her an antisemite. She is not critical of the ;existence of any other ethnic or religious country in the world only of the Jewish state.

She isn’t just antisemitic she as an eliminationist antisemite.

Jacob Arnon says:

AS noted above Butler isn’t just against the occupation she is against the existence of a Jewish State, period. This is antisemitic stuff buddy. Learn to read. At least Liebovitz got that part right.

Throwaway says:

I am not in the least concerned with Judith Butler or her work, though I at least recognise the importance of both. My criticism here is leveled entirely at Liel Leibovitz’s astonishingly ignorant (mis)representation of Adorno and *his* work.

Your own criticism seems entirely without point, since you quote a paragraph I wrote, a paragraph that specifically addresses itself to the work of Adorno, and arbitrarily apply it to Judith Butler.

Throwaway says:

And how is that, in any way, relevant to what I wrote?

Jacob Arnon says:

Not arbitrarily, buddy since it was written in a context and the context is in part the work of Butler.

Jacob Arnon says:

This is what you wrote, buddy:

“Your comment and attitude indicate that you don’t know anything of Butler’s work…”

It is Butler’s work you are defending even if you keep denying it.

Adorno, btw, cared deeply about Israel, something many of his followers conveniently forget.

Throwaway says:

…Once again, I will point out that the paragraph in question addresses itself explicitly to Adorno’s work. I am not aware that Adorno’s work is, in any universe, predicated upon that of Judith Butler.

You quote a paragraph that discusses an aspect of Adorno’s work and you bring it, willy-nilly, to apply upon Judith Butler and her work. This may make sense to you, perhaps, and to you alone.

I am not sure how to make this any clearer.

Throwaway says:

1) I have never denied defending Butler. What I have said and I keep reiterating, is that my commentary here is concerned with the wholesale misrepresentation of Adorno and his work that Professor Leibovitz has perpetrated. I disagree with Butler on many accounts, but I certainly do not mistake the signal importance of her work to contemporary thinking in gender and sexuality and the politics thereof.

2) I am not concerned about Israel. Read above for an explanation of my stakes in this conversation.

ndale27 says:

I agree with Throwaway’s comment. One small strong indicator of Leibovitz’s infidelity to the truth is seen in his manipulative use of the quote from Butler about immersion in the world. This is in support of his unremarkable observation that intellectuals record of applying their eyes to “earthy goals” is uneven in its success (a bipolar generalization that would be true of anyone from Nobelists to street-sweepers). Disingenuously, he rips out part of Butler’s interview on receiving the Adorno prize as “evidence” that she is disconnected from reality. In fact her interviewer had said to Butler, “People tend to think that philosophers are somehow detached from the
real world, while you seem completely immersed in it. What sort of
challenges does that present?” Ms. Butler’s remark which Liebovitz’s seizes on and decontextualizes, was stated primarily to moderate the generalization not to admit to some Laputan detachment. Small point, maybe but indicative of Leibovitz’s own detachment …from truth or fairness.

Chloe says:

@google-12ba3dd255aa3bc771e9f5665f1d0e9f:disqus …. except, of course, that our sly author here has explicitly neglected to engage with Butler’s work in any substantive manner, and focuses instead on her (apparently) woefully obfuscatory writing style.

I agree, Throwaway– I only hope that the publishing of snotrags like this will do more disservice to the credibility of Tablet than to the integrity of people who actually bother to /read/ Adorno. In the meantime, well… this is just depressing.

claudewc says:

I think you are probably using the word “buddy” sarcastically, aren’t you?

Jacob Arnon says:

Chloe, which aspect of Butler’s work are you defending? Her endorsement of Hamas and Hezbollah tow deeply anti-Jewish organizations whose aim is the murder of all Jews, or her endorsement of the elimination of Israel?

Jacob Arnon says:

Get real, “throwaway” this isn’t the place to get into a deep discussion of Adorno’s work much of which I like, while not agreeing with it. Leibovitz’ who sees Adorno’s
work as opaque and obfuscatory took the opportunity to compare not unreasonably to that of Butler’s.

I don’t agree with his view of Adorno,, though I can how someone not trained in the history of modern dialectic from Hegel to our time would think so.

I do think though that Butler’s work is worthless and that it’s her sexual politics that draws readers many of whom couldn’t tell you what she means in most of her essays.

Let’s leave it here.

Stephen Kennamer says:

Adorno’s work isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. We are always being asked by the masters of the scholastic universe to shut up if we haven’t read and pondered deeply everything that Adorno wrote, and everybody that he read and pondered deeply, and factor in the historical context. But if a man can write about Schoenberg and Stravinsky the way he wrote, I really don’t need to subject myself to the rest of his oeuvre (although I have, with no better result). I’m not talking about his preference for one composer over the other, although his elevation of his own taste to the status of aesthetic first principles is risible: I’m talking about the childishness of viewing them as dialectical thesis and antithesis, the one heroic in some weird Marxist way that the composer himself would not have understood (something about his abolition of the tonal center, which signifies the individualist capitalist exploiter enslaving the other 11 proletarian pitch classes), the other the diabolical enemy of humankind. There are good reasons that most educated people today pronounce a pox on Theory. My own complaint with Leibovitz is that he can’t quite go all the way–he hedges his bets and suggests that there is some authentic core of greatness to Adorno that has been sullied by his less nuanced followers. There isn’t. And where would Adorno be without those followers?

Chloe says:

@google-12ba3dd255aa3bc771e9f5665f1d0e9f:disqus — Why, those parts /especially/, of course! I’m the most ardent anti-Jew-Jew around!

Tell me, Jacob, “buddy,” can you read? Not to over-privilege literacy here, but frankly, I believe you’re wasting everyone’s time. If, however, you can actually read, please dazzle me with an explication of how one might glean a “defense of Butler’s work” from what I wrote? I’m afraid that, by most accepted measures of reading comprehension, it is relatively unambiguous that I was criticizing first you, and secondarily Mr. Leibovitz.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a radical-left anti-Semitic conspiratorial coup to organize.

Jacob Arnon says:

“Why, those parts /especially/, of course! I’m the most ardent anti-Jew-Jew around!”

You just a pretentious little Butlerite who thinks she is funny.

Jacob Arnon says:

“I am not concerned about Israel.”

Fine, there is no reason you should and if Butler hadn’t been concerned with Israel no one here would care what she wrote or didn’t write. However, Butler is very much obsessed with Israel: she thinks it’s the worse place in the world and that it shouldn’t exist. This is why people here are obsessed in a negative way with her bigoted views.

Jacob Arnon says:

The professor says that her mother’s family from Hungary was killed in the Shoah. So why isn’t she as concerned about the fascistic and antisemitic culture that is taking hold in that country?
“Blood and Soil” Hungarian styleGuest Post, October 7th 2012, 3:58 pmGuest post by Karl Pfeifer

http://hurryupharry.org/2012/10/07/blood-and-soil-hungarian-style/

Why is she only obsessed by the Jewish state?

As a recently graduated philosophy student, I found Adorno’s thinking and writing interesting.This does not mean I found everything he wrote as correct or,even viable philosophically but at the very least, he was dedicated to engaging with the nexus of cultural hegemony and intolerant societies of both the right and left.

Right. I was going to respond but then I saw Throwaway’s response. I terribly dislike Butler but am prepared to defend her ‘method’ (such a lazy term, Liel – what you mean is argumentative style), of which anybody who’s actually read her will be able to grab 10 far worse examples ata moment’s notice. My point, though, is that Liel appears a monstrous ego-maniac here, an overweening, wannabe-scholar grasping at manufactured grad-school ‘knowingness’ to advance his ego while leaving observers underwhelmed.

Regardless of what one might think of Prof. Butler’s work in critical feminist theory, or the extent to which it relies on jargon characteristic of the discipline, even a cursory reading of her published views on Israel-Palestine makes clear that her criticism of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is proffered with remarkable clarity.
Tablet readers interested in going beyond the mere surface of the criticisms lodged in Leibovitz’ essay can find a few of Butler’s lucid presentation of her views in the following:

Judith Butler (August 21, 2003). “No, it’s not anti-semitic”. London Review of Books.
Judith Butler (Winter 2004). “Jews and the Bi-National Vision”. Logos.

I am at a loss to understand how Prof. Leibovitz’s poorly-reasoned essay found its way to publication in Tablet. The Jewish community sorely needs a vehicle for open, sophisticated and intellectually honest conversation about matters of political, cultural and spiritual importance. Tablet’s coverage of Judith Butler’s Adorno prize – in these essays by Leibovitz and James Kirchik’s essay – fails us on all counts.

Links for the articles:
Judith Butler (August 21, 2003). “No, it’s not anti-semitic”. London Review of Books.
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n16/judith-butler/no-its-not-anti-semitic
Judith Butler (Winter 2004). “Jews and the Bi-National Vision”. Logos.
http://www.logosjournal.com/butler.htm

Jacob Arnon says:

“My point, though, is that Liel appears a monstrous ego-maniac here, an overweening, wannabe-scholar grasping at manufactured grad-school ‘knowingness’ to advance his ego while leaving observers underwhelmed.”

Ben,’s little point has no point, except to insult.

Substitute Judith (as in the Butler did it) for Liel and you get a valid comment.

Jacob Arnon says:

The London review of Books specializes in anti-Israel screeds. I read both these articles and unless you accept Butler’s unproven premises her comments are full of bigotry aimed at Israel and those who defend Israel.

Even Butler’s tile is wrong: Yes, it is antisemitic to single out the Jewish for special opprobrium.

I don’t expect her bigoted admirers to see that.

Jacob Arnon says:

Yes, by all means let’s have a “bi-national” State where the Arabs can then overwhelm the Jewish inhabitants an either expel them or murder them (If Hamas is the other side of the “bi” in this newly created Arabs State.

It wouldn’t bother Butler or her members of her cult if the Jews of Israel were massacred.

Natan79 says:

Throwaway – garbage from a two-bit philosopher. Do you guys like anyone who is NOT antisemitic? Fuck you, bastards. None of you could change a tire, solve a differential equation, perform surgery or play a piano sonata. None. All you can do is chat and write garbage – imbecile graphomaniacs and chatterers, of the kind that uses cell phones to death but could never make them.

Natan79 says:

There is no surer sign of imbecility than being ironic. When you lack intelligence, you’re ironic. The hipster ethos of irony, everything in quotation marks. Chloe is no exception.

Natan79 says:

Judith Butler denies the right of Israel to exist and supports Hezbollah, a terrorist organization openly dedicated to murdering Jews wherever they are in the world. As for you, Matthew Wiviott, you’re a fucking liar and a demented antisemite, as obvious from your quote of Mondoweiss. What else do you quote when you take breaks from fucking your mother, StormFront? Where do you normally write, you Nazi shit?

I hope you get sent to your lot of 72 mustachioed virgins by Hezbollah – by mistake of course, while you carry their explosives in your backpack. I also hope the FBI will read your contributions and nab you, you terrorist supporter. I would bet my last dollar you have already helped terrorists with money, propaganda or, more likely, both.

Natan79 says:

It is relevant because you don’t admit she is antisemitic. asa jew and Israeli citizen, I view anyone who suggests my country t be destroyed as an antisemite. Including yourself, Throwaway. People like yourself are the reason I don’t give a cent back to my Ivy League university, because I don’t want to support you.

William Large says:

This is one of the finest examples of performative contradiction I have read for some time and its revelling in its own stupidity is quite astonishing. This has nothing at all to do with my views of the merits of Adorno or Butler, but the sheer mindlessness of this writing is breathtaking.

seamus says:

“How could that be any clearer?-”
Well, not everyone is equally comfortable with opaque prose.

That’s absurd. Adorno did not view Schoenberg and Stravinsky, “as dialectical thesis and antithesis, the one heroic in some weird
Marxist way that the composer himself would not have understood
(something about his abolition of the tonal center, which signifies the
individualist capitalist exploiter enslaving the other 11 proletarian
pitch classes), the other the diabolical enemy of humankind.” This is a gross distortion of his views. Have you actually ever read “The Philosophy of New Music” or any other of his writings on music? I highly doubt it if this is what you think of him or you really didn’t do a very good job of understanding it. (Seriously, pick up the Richard Leppert edited anthology “Essays on Music” to get a sense of the complexity of his thought.) I have strong disagreements with many things Adorno wrote yet I also think he was one of the most original, provocative and interesting intellectuals of the 20th century. It’s your loss that you have written him off while offering off such a poor understanding of him; perhaps you should consider what Jürgen Habermas (not exactly an intellectual slouch) said about him: “Adorno was a genius; I say that without reservation…[H]e had a presence of mind, a spontaneity of thought, a power of formulation that I never have seen before or since.” (From “A Generation Apart from Adorno”)

Well with words like that you clearly show who’s the real fascist here.

Ezikiel says:

Thank you fat man, you took the words right out of my mouth (though I could never say it as eloquantly as you).

Ezikiel says:

The most terrible ideas linger in academia. Armies of fools defend Marxism even as it’s failures are so glaring. It doesn’t matter how wrong Adorno may have been about Stravinsky – the greatest musical genius of the 20th century – or about Jazz. Similarly with Schoenberg’s atonal system of music composition. So obviously a fallacy, yet still defended by music professors all over academia foaming at the mouth a 100 years after the most stupid idea in music history was born.

Ezikiel says:

Thank you Liel for exposing the fallacies of Adorno and co for the general reading public. The most terrible ideas linger in academia. Armies of fools defend Marxism even as it’s failures are so glaring. How can Marxism survive the rise and fall of the soviet empire?
It doesn’t matter how wrong Adorno may have been about Stravinsky – the greatest musical genius of the 20th century – or about Jazz. Similarly with Schoenberg’s atonal system of music composition. So obviously a fallacy, yet still defended by music professors all over academia, foaming at the mouth a 100 years after the most stupid idea in music history was born.

phacepalm says:

“Tablet” is the place on the internet where deranged zionist jews like herr Leibovitz and assorted clowns like Jacob Arnon get to spew their garbage. To try to engage them in the merits of the discussion regarding Adorno and his work is an exercise in futility. All they care about is that Judith Butler is critical of their beloved Israel, and as such she needs to be vilified. She has strayed from the tribe, so she is a crazy self-hating jew.

baltasar almudárriz says:

One doesn’t have to character assassinate someone just because one disagrees with him/her. Theodor Wiesengrund was an outstanding intellectual.

My response to that “No, it’s not anti-semitic per se…” meme is
“No, it’s not anti-semitic per se — but it could be.”

Xavier says:

To the great shame of Critical Theory these comments on Adorno penetrate — or so unreflective commentary proclaims. Leibovitz’s tendency throughout this article loses sight of Adorno’s deep philosophical commitments to dialectical thinking; in all its totality: interdisciplinary. Setting up the case of evaluation, upon his prose, only shows how perversely misunderstood his ‘negative dialectical’ methodology is. Quick commentary, free of scholarly consideration, is the watermark of freemarket-capitalist thinking. Taken without reference to the whole — his body of reflections — all Adorno’s thinking thus enables individual evaluation to become subversive against its self as much as the division of labour is to the modern human. Through, highlighting his objections to jazz as the “liquidation of music”, one appeals to upgrade particularity, in its most abstract form; to take leave from the interrelationships, nuances, and concentric nature of dialectical thinking. Leibovitz’s misconstrued reading, betrays his own very criticism of careful, deligent scholarship. By reducing and stripping away the redemptive currents as ‘nastiness’ — arguably at the heart of Adorno’s thinking is the ethical subject — Leibovitz deludes himself in the criticism

“To counter all this nastiness, we need thinkers who speak in clear and compassionate voices.”

Adorno places decaying existence under late capitalism back into the ‘decentred subjectify within totality’. Suffering, free of existential aporia of the Fitchean absolute ‘I’ type, seeks a better understanding of life; the “wrong life cannot be lived rightly”. Readings that understand and apply this, in all its praxis are individuals in the critical pedagogy tradition, such as Parlo Freire. Prejudice can never be left at the door, but the anti-intellectual undercurrent, concealing as “criticism” can and must be systematically exposed and instantly nullified.

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