Part 3: Adorno
I think it is useful for each new section to start out with a quote from Chris O'Kane's own introduction. I should have done it for the earlier sections because referring back to it will help focus the reader on his goals.
"In this chapter I focus on the place of fetishism in Theodor W. Adorno’s theory of social domination. In contrast to accounts that equate Adorno’s theory of social domination with a nebulous conception of reification, by focusing on the place of fetishism in Adorno’s thought, I argue that Adorno’s account of the social constitution and constituent properties of social domination is based upon his conception of fetishism. I demonstrate this by focusing on how Adorno theorises social domination in his early and late work. I argue that in his early work, Adorno conceives fetishism through his Marxian interpretation of Lukács, Benjamin and Freud, as evidenced in texts such as The Idea of Natural History, The Actuality of Philosophy, and On The fetish Character of Music and the Regression of Listening. However, and in contrast, I argue that his later work conceives fetishism through a Hegelian-Marxian conception of the exchange abstraction's fetish-form. This, I will claim, provides the latter with means to elucidate the social genesis and the constituent properties of social domination whichare carried out in his dialectical analysis of the objective and subjective forms of social domination proper to a negative totality, thus functioning as a basis for his critical theory of society. I will argue that this later theory attempts to remedy the deficiencies of his earlier positions by providing an account of social objectivity and of a more fully fledged account of social constitution. However, in the conclusion to this chapter, I will also show that the theory is ultimately undermined by an insufficient account of the genesis and social pervasiveness of the fetish-form of the exchange abstraction." [Italics and bold mine - CDW]
This should allow us to focus on Adorno's developing notion of the fetish and the key problem O'Kane identifies in his conception, notably that it provides "an insufficient account of the genesis and social pervasiveness" of the fetish-form. This is not the same, obviously, as saying that his account of the fetish-form itself is flawed, which was the case with Lukacs' Hegelian-Weberian-Marxian hybrid.
As always, I am interested in what is so unusual about distinguishing between the value-form, which is the essence of capitalism, and the labor process, which is a phenomenal form, that is, highly contingent and prone to radical transformation, but without changing the validity of the value-form. Insofar as the labor process is also the valorisation process, the labor process is also the continuation of the inner split in capitalist labor between concrete and abstract, but here it is as a part of the movement of value qua capital, that is, it is a different level of concreteness, of determination, and one which has a contingent element to it because the labor process, and thus the valorization process at the point of production, changes dramatically over time, altering the very constitution of the working class (subject to a variety of determinations outside of production as well, that is, in circulation and consumption and further, as I have argued elsewhere, even in the spatial organization of capitalist society as a whole.)
"However, as I have shown, Rose’s idiosyncratic distinction between fetishism and reification means that this strand of commentary does not differentiate between Adorno’s theory of fetishism and his theory of reification. This interpretation consequently misses the way in which Adorno’s analysis of identity-thinking is interrelated with his conceptualisation of the fetish-form of the exchange abstraction which grounds his theory of social domination. Like the other account described above, which blurs Adorno’s theory of social domination with Lukács’s theory of reification, this reading treats Adorno’s theory of social domination as if it were equivalent to his own theory of reification. 361 As I will show, Adorno’s theory of identity-thinking is reflective of a central element of his conception of fetishism and it plays a part in his theory of social domination."
As before, maybe I am missing something about Chris O'Kane's take on Rose's reading of Adorno, but on p. 43 of the Melancholy Science she distinguishes Adorno from others in the following way:
“Adorno's theory of reification was based on commodity fetishism in a way which depended not on Marx's theory of work or the labour process (alienation), but on Marx's theory of value, especially on the distinction between use-value and exchange-value.”
Aside from the ongoing complaint of Rose's distinction of the labour process from value, it seems clear that Rose sees Adorno's theory of reification as arising from his theory of fetishism, his interpretation of Marx's commodity fetishism.
Maybe the argument is that, in grounding the use of reification in Adorno's understanding of comoodity fetishism, she then never really speaks about his theory of commodity fetishism and just focuses on reification? This would make sense, as she never really develops that point, staying entirely with reification and use-value/exchange-value after her original note.
Her discussion of reification, however, is clearly linked to her discussion of what a concept is in classical German philosophy versus what it is in the English world of empiricism and analytical philosophy. I would rather not re-write that analysis here, but some distinction needs to be made.
In English, a concept is what one has when one correctly grasps the meaning or sense of a word. In German, objects have concepts in the sense that in English objects have properties or real attributes. Rose notes that 'an objects falls under a concept' is akin to saying that 'an object has a property.' She then works through the three senses of identity thinking in Adorno and it is the last of these, rational identity, which is especially important and related to reification. It is worth reading through because it is very difficult and I won't do anyone favors by summarising it.
Why does this matter? Because it is key to what Adorno means by a concept and an object. There is no object that is pure objectivity and no concept that is merely subjective. Adorno's notion of concept avoids that dualistic way of understanding concept and object typical of “positivism”.
"In contrast to Lukács, Adorno does not mistake objectification with the autonomous social properties of things. Adorno treats the commodity-form and the related problem of the ‘thing in-itself’ as social forms of objectivity possessed by things, rather than as forms of thingified false objectivity.378 This means that criticism does not destroy false objectivity, so as to disclose the real underlying substratum. Yet criticism does however disclose that these forms of objectivity are unintentionally constituted social phenomena. This is due to several elements that Adorno elucidates here and which he also presented in the Idea of Natural History; namely: (a) that the essence of this unintentional process of social constitution appears in the symbolic form,379 and (b) that disclosing this process denaturalises and historicises these forms of second nature and (c) that this type of criticism is indicative of Marxist theory."
"Adorno’s later formulation of fetishism and its role in his theory of composition and of the characteristics of social domination occurs following his return to Germany in the 1960s. This formulation breaks with his earlier account of fetishism and with his theory of social domination.389"
"This period also signifies Adorno’s rapprochement with Marx for an articulation of a macrosocial theory, following the Nietzschean and Weberian narratives of The Dialectic of Enlightenment."
So according to this, Adorno's earlier work is a mix of Nietzsche and Weber, whereas his later work breaks with this for a Marxian "articulation of a macrosocial theory." This seems like a pretty big claim that would merit more substantiation. The evidence provided seems largely to be a noting of a shift from "micrological investigations based on the commodity" to "macrological theories that account for the constitution and constituent properties of social domination...based on...his formulations of...the fetish-form of the exchange abstraction."
"Adorno provides what can be called a dialectical fusion of Hegel and Marx. He interprets the two thinkers’ theories of social constitution as interrelated with each other. This means that Adorno has a Hegelian interpretation of Marx, in which the latter is seen as a dialectical theorist who views capital as a social totality; yet he also contends that the late Marx followed Hegel in theorising capitalist totality through ‘the objectivity of the concept’ and by viewing labour as social labour.390 He consequently conceives Marx’s theory of fetishism in this Hegelian light.391"
I find this confusing. I agree with Rose, for what it is worth, when she argues that this 'objectivity of the concept' is exactly a way to avoid compounding Marx's theory of fetishism with Hegel's ideas on the development of consciousness (p. 47), that is, to not fuse Hegel and Marx. Therefore, I don't know what is a fusion of Hegel and Marx here, unless one is of the opinion that Marx represents some absolute break with Hegel and thus one has to bring them back together on 1) dialectic, 2) capital as a social totality, 3) 'the objectivity of the concept', and 4) by viewing labor as social labor. The first two are a Hegelian Marx and the last two are a Hegelian reading of Marx's theory of fetishism. And yet, I have not seen any good argument that Marx's understanding of 'concept' would be strictly different from Hegel's. It's grounding might be different (exactly Rose's point about why Hegel is unnecessary here, since Marx provides his ground), but there is no reason to think that the 'objectivity of the concept' would be denied by Marx or read in “English” fashion.
It does help to see that Adorno self-consciously attempts to supplement Marx with Hegel because he saw Marx as neglecting "the conceptual element in exchange that is necessary for conceptualising equivalents and non-equivalents as equivalents." Exchange and identity thinking are then "dialectically interrelated" for Adorno. So here is a case for Adorno thinking that Marx short-changes conceptuality, but still not for a fusion of Hegel with Marx since it does not entail that Marx rejects this kind of conceptuality, only that he fails to develop it adequately.
This raises a number of issues with Adorno's reading of Marx, however, as already noted, in his focus strictly on exchange/use.
This is something of an exegesis of notes from a seminar of Adorno's from 1962.
I am uncertain about Adorno's notion of abstraction here:
"Adorno thus interprets fetishism as the autonomous, abstract and socially objective properties possessed by commodities which are constituted by social labour and realised in exchange. This is why I term Adorno’s conception of fetishism - the fetish form of the exchange abstraction."
And this is why it is insufficient. The fetish form is not merely in the exchange abstraction, produced by it.
It is not merely the commodity which is fetishized, but the entire movement of capital (though Marx will only arrive there in Vol. 3.) The illusion is that the process is one of concrete labor producing use-values as goods to be sold for a surplus. Then again, there is also the issue that the exchange, as an exchange of equivalents, is also an illusion. The exchange takes place, but between the worker whose labor is the commodity for sale, and capital, the exchange is and is not of equivalents.
“Because exchange-value is the dominant principle, fetishism realises itself necessarily in an autonomous form of compulsion. Both sides of the class relation are forced to take on the function of ‘character masks,’ which are ‘derived from objective conditions’ wherein ‘the role […] [is] imposed on the subject by the structure.’ Workers are compelled to sell their labour power in order to survive. Capitalists are compelled to valorise value to ‘prevent themselves from going broke.’404
Fetishism also determines reification, which Adorno distinguishes from the above accounts of compulsion, and derives from the fetish form of the exchange abstraction. Reification is thus established by the fetish form of the exchange abstraction. This is because the fetish form of the exchange abstraction is ‘not simply false consciousness but results from the structure of political economy.’ For Adorno ‘this is the actual reason why consciousness is determined by being.’405 Reification is thus defined as ‘human beings’ becoming ‘dependent on those objectivities’ of the fetish form of the exchange abstraction ‘which are obscure to them.’406 However, since reification is
established by the autonomous and personified properties of the fetish form of the exchange abstraction, ‘reification [Verdinglichung] is not only false consciousness but simultaneously also reality, insofar as commodities really are alienated from human beings. We really are dependent on the world of commodities [Warenwelt].’"
This is key:
Compulsion is abstract, that is, it applies to all (albeit not equally) and is not really challenged by consciousness or interpersonal relations.
Fetishism determines reification, though there are questions as to Adorno's development as I have pointed out.
"Thus Adorno’s interpretation of Marx distinguishes between the reified social relations of exchange, reification and fetishism. For Adorno, reification on a practical and theoretical level is established by reified social relations and the personification of things with both as central elements of social domination... On the one hand, the pernicious effects of the fetishistic, autonomous objectivity of social totality on persons exceeds an account of reification, as it includes accounts of compulsion, psychological and ontological human maiming that are explicated in his account of fetishism and social domination and are not described or captured by the metaphor of thingification or objectification. On the other hand at this point in his work408 Adorno also differentiates this type of domination from practical reification and reified consciousness.409 This is also why he states that other types of reified consciousness are of secondary importance to the reified consciousness
established by the fetish-character of commodities.410 In contrast to accounts that subsume all of these aspects of Adorno’s theory under reification, I focus on foregrounding his account of fetishism and the way it is realised in his account of the compulsive and maiming aspects of social domination." [Italics mine - CDW]
Well stated and especially a good distinction between reification and fetishism.
"Adorno distinguishes his theory from Benjamin’s through the heightened importance that his macrological theory of the exchange abstraction grants to that abstraction’s mediation of every fragment of social totality; and he differentiates himself from Lukács in several respects. Firstly, on a
methodological level, he moves away from using the concept of the commodity in favour of using exchange as the basis for the critique of capitalism as a socio-cultural totality. Secondly, on a theoretical level, this is reflected in his move away from his use of Lukács’ early conception of second nature to his conception of the exchange abstraction, and in a further move, away from describing the objective and autonomous aspect of social domination through alienation towards addressing it via abstraction, autonomisation, personification and inversion. This is coupled to his
criticism of the ‘tireless charge of reification’ for its ‘idealist’, ‘subjectivist’ and un-dialectical focus, which conflates domination with objectification, bases itself on the ‘isolated category’ of ‘thingly’ appearance and ‘blocks’ a properly dialectical diagnosis of social domination.429 These deficiencies of Lukács’s theory of reification are contrasted with Marx’s properly dialectical and objective theory of the fetish character of commodities.430"
Adorno's move away from Benjamin and Lukacs, based on his reading of the importance of the exchange abstraction rather than the commodity (alienation).
My complaints about the working through of Rose and Postone's comments on Adorno and Lukacs matters less here than the presentation of Adorno, which I think is very engaging and thoughtful, and can be productive both for a value-form reading of Marx's work and for trying to understand Adorno as an independently interesting contributor to Marx's critique of value and a theory of social domination.
The issues with Rose and Postone will come back at two levels later: how do we understand the value-form/labor process relationship (a point also important for Postone and a host of other thinkers), and what is the importance of the status of labor for this? Clearly, their critiques at these levels also distinguish them from a variety of readings of Marx's critique of value that are broadly still value-form readings.
"Adorno’s theory is dialectical because it treats society as a dialectical totality that is collectively composed by subjects who are in turn composed by that society.431"
It may be my allergic reaction to "dialectical" as a much-abused and poorly developed term, but this seems circular. Once you say "X theory is dialectical because it treats society as a dialectical totality" feels awfully close to a theory is dialectical because it assumes its object is dialectical. Totality and a discursive relation of subjects and society are not inherently dialectical. The footnote from Adorno in fact is more complicated than that:
"‘Subject and object diverge in this society, and, to an unprecedented degree, living people are the objects of social processes which, in their turn, are composed of people.’ (T. W. Adorno 2002, 137)"
First, subject and object diverge and people are "the objects of social processes". This divergence is important because this is not the totality of Lukacs, where the perspective of totality is good and "totality" is taken as a given. In a "dialectical view", to use that awkward term, only capital constitutes a totality in the Hegelian sense, and thus a negative totality constituted through domination. Also, subjects and people are not quite the same thing. The people are subjected, but not Subjects in the sense of a subject-object dialectic. This is where Postone's insistence on Capital as Subject differs critically from Lukacs' Proletariat as Subject of History.
"As was the case with Lukács’ social analysis, the capitalist society that Adorno theorises is different than the early liberal type of capitalism that Marx sought to theorise in its ideal average. Foremost among these differences are several developments that Adorno explicates through his theory of the fetish-form of the exchange abstraction. These include the totally administered society as the outgrowth of Keynesian capitalist state bureaucracies, administration and rationalised Fordist
production, and the emergence of mass societies through the integration of the working class."
And in this there is no recognition of the transformation of the labor process pace Rose. The labor process in Adorno's day is also radically different from Marx's day. Hans-Dieter Bahr's "The Class Structure of Machinery" is necessary reading, but the same insights come from Italian operaismo and French critiques of the labor process (Serge Mallet, Andre Gorz). Without a grasp of the transformation of the labor process, rationalised Fordist production remains an empty phrase and the emergence of mass societies and the integration of the working class cannot be understood at all.
This results in Adorno falling back onto an explanation of the totally administered society through extension and intensification of exchange-relations to society as a whole, but the domain of production remains unexplored. Adorno extrapolates the whole of society from the first chapters of Volume 1 of Capital.
145 fn 442
Highlights this limit of stopping with "industrial labour", as if the industrial labour of 1880 was like that of 1968 and contemporary society was just this industrial model becoming "the pattern of society everywhere".
The actual change in the relation of the worker to work, the transformation of the nature of work, etc. is replaced with an abstraction.
"This condition of unfreedom becomes the basis for a conception of freedom as the negation of unfreedom: ‘Subjects become aware of the limits of their freedom as their own membership in nature, ultimately as their powerlessness in view of the society, becomes autonomous before them.’466 This conception of freedom is metapsychologically derived as the ‘polemical counter-image to the suffering under social compulsion.’467 It is also grounded in the limits of the subsuming powers of the commodity-form. The latter reaches its limit in its determination of that which ultimately determines it in turn: labour power.468 Furthermore, and by extension, this notion of freedom is also premised on the negation of exchange and social totality." [Italics mine - CDW]
"In sum, Adorno’s dialectical social theory of domination uses his theory of the fetish-form of the exchange abstraction to theorise supra-individual forms of social domination, and to thereby articulate the ways in which these forms invert to compel, condition and maim individuals to the point where they become reliant on the very forms that oppress them. This dialectical social theory is summarised as a whole in Negative Dialectics:
[T]he economic process, which reduces individual interests to the common denominator of a totality, which remains negative, because it distances itself by means of its constitutive abstraction from the individual interests, out of which it is nevertheless simultaneously composed. The universality, which reproduces the preservation of life, simultaneously endangers it, on constantly more threatening levels. The violence of the self-realizing universal is not, as Hegel thought, identical to the essence of individuals, but always also contrary. They are not merely character-masks, agents of value, in some presumed special sphere of the economy. Even where they think they have escaped the primacy of the economy, all the way down to their psychology, the maison tolère, [French: universal home] of what is unknowably individual, they react under the compulsion of the generality; the more identical they are with it, the more un-identical they are with it in turn as defenceless followers. What is expressed in the individuals themselves, is that the whole preserves itself along with them only by and through the antagonism.469"
This returns to the idea from 141, and here again we can see certain elements of Adorno's thought left out. It is not merely dialectical "it treats society as a dialectical totality that is collectively composed by subjects who are in turn composed by that society", but because the totality is negative i.e. something antagonistic to the subject who compose it and the totality is only able to proceed through this antagonism. That the totality is, that it is a negative totality antagonistic to its substance, and that only through this antagonism can it subsist is "dialectical". The presentation of the matter on 141 lacks this negativity, and thus determinacy, for all determination is negation.
I don't think that "just society" is an appropriate term. Justice is a slippery bourgeois concept intimately tied to exchange. If fn 474 is any indication, Adorno is as critical of equality as he would be of justice:
'What the critique of the exchange-principle as the identifying one of thought wishes, is that the ideal of free and fair exchange, until today a mere pretext, would be realised. This alone would transcend the exchange. Once critical theory has demystified this latter as something which proceeds by equivalents and yet not by equivalents, then the critique of the inequality in the equality aims towards equality, amidst all skepticism against the rancor in the bourgeois egalitarian ideal, which tolerates nothing qualitatively divergent. If no human being was deprived of their share of their living labor, then rational identity would be achieved, and society would be beyond the identifying thought.' (Adorno 2001, ‘On the Dialectics of Identity’) http://members.efn.org/~dredmond/ND2Trans.txt
This paragraph is a critique of equality because an egalitarian society is precisely one in which "the inequality in the equality" reigns. "The critique... aims towards equality." One suspects that "towards" here might in fact be "at". Adorno expresses freedom as human beings residing peacefully side-by-side in their inequality. Raymond Geuss in Philosophy and Real Politics puts forwards a very sharp critique of equality and justice premised upon Adornian critical theory, albeit with an obvious analytical influence.
Now begins the critique of Adorno:
"The most fundamental problem is that Adorno’s theory of the fetish form of the exchange abstraction is insufficiently theorised... an explanation of the genesis of exchange and the extent of its pervasiveness is never really given."
ASIDE: It occurs to me that in an earlier post, I may have been hasty in saying that Chris O'Kane is not repetitive. I meant relative to Postone. With some proper editing, much material could be disposed of, such as repeating that Adorno didn't make Lukacs' mistakes here, again, for the third or fourth time.
"As I have shown, these expositions provide an account of how the fetish form of the exchange abstraction is realised in exchange. They do not however account for Adorno’s modification of Marx’s theory through its fusion of Hegel, or for his transformation of Marxian categories, such as exchange and fetishism. Nor does Adorno provide an account of how these categories are indicative of virtually all aspects of social life." [Italics mine - CDW]
On the two items I italicized. The first remains completely underdeveloped. I read a claim early in this section that Adorno was Hegelianizing Marx, but no actual evidence that this was the case. Maybe it is hidden in the lengthy quotes from a draft translation of Negative Dialectics in the copious footnotes, but it is not clearly argued in the doctoral thesis itself. The second is also not well developed, except insofar as it is noted that Adorno has some criticisms of Marx's treatment of epistemology, but it is again hardly clear in the thesis proper where and how Adorno engages in "transformations", a very strong charge.
So I think the thesis has shown what it claims in the first sentence, but not really adequately either of the second or third claims.
"This is why Adorno’s attempt to utilise some of Marx’s categories in relation to his category of exchange whilst neglecting other important ones is problematic: for instead of the development of the categories of abstract labour, value, surplus value and capital that are, as we have seen, central to Marx’s theory of fetishism and social domination, Adorno opts for a socialised Hegelian reading of Marx. This involves a dialectically conceived notion of exchange, understood in relation to late capitalist social totality. Yet in this interrelated reading of Hegel and Marx, how and why exchange possesses its socially determinate function, and how it relates to late capitalist totality, is not sufficiently explained; instead it is interpreted and presupposed as an already existent feature of a totality that is not intelligible as a whole, whilst the dialectical function of totality is accounted for through Adorno’s comments on the properties and pervasiveness of exchange.478"
While some of this seems valid, especially the first part of the first sentence, once again the problem is imagined as "a socialised Hegelian reading of Marx" and "a dialectically conceived notion of exchange, understood in relation to late capitalist social totality." But what does this mean? The text nowhere really develops this "Hegelian" charge nor the notion of "dialectical", which should be handled with great circumspection by Hegelians and Marxists alike. The one explanation of "dialectical" by the author is actually close to a social constructivist notion than to Adorno even as present in the excerpts from Negative Dialectic. Never mind that I can't imagine what a "socialised" Hegel even is, as Hegel is from the outset a philosopher of the social. It is like saying "a historicized Hegelian reading". Very odd.
"Adorno falls back on analysing these aspects of society through modified Marxian terms, such as fetishism, exchange, exchange-value, etc., or by treating these phenomena as harmonious or reflective of exchange. Yet, these deficiencies in his accounts of the genesis of exchange and of its pervasiveness mean that he does not conclusively show how or why the latter mediates them. This lack of a theory of the genesis and pervasiveness of the exchange abstraction thus undermines Adorno's analysis of society... it is not apparent in Adorno’s account of exchange if or how this basis can be generalised to other social and conceptual phenomena, let alone serve as ground for their criticism."
This is better. This is the meat.
158 fn 479
Concrete labor is confused with the labor process, which was the earlier way the author took issue with Rose and Postone. These are important distinctions, though it is important to understand that the labor process is also the valorization process (and thus concrete and abstract labor move forward together in their more determinate manifestation.) I have addressed the point re: the labor process earlier and why it matters here.
"These problems are further undermined by Adorno’s comments, presented elsewhere, which express hostility to an objective theory of society.480 Adorno often uses such comments to advocate his method of constellation;481 or his points that society is ‘intelligible’ and ‘unintelligible’482, yet they also contradict his contentions that the fetish form of the exchange abstraction objectively constitutes society."
This does not follow. Adorno objects to "an objective theory of society", but what does he mean by this? His notion of society is not "objective" in the sense used here, not merely because a subject-object dialectic always involves the subject side, but because an objective theory of society would undermine the antagonistic and fractured quality of this society; it would be a fetishistic view. Thus the last part of the sentence overlooks the character of the fetish form, which "objectively constitutes society" in an antagonistic and perverse manner.
Also, and this has happened a lot, the footnotes do not correctly reference the item in the bibliography. Adorno 2001 is 4 different citations in the biblio (2001a-d). This is unhelpful.
"This is also the case for several comments Adorno makes which characterise exchange as having occurred since ‘time immemorial’484 casting doubt on whether his analysis of exchange is specific to the social relations of capitalism, going against statements made elsewhere that it is, and undermining the historical account also outlined above that treats the properties of exchange as an all-around mediator as the outcome of particular historical and social conditions."
This is better, especially as Adorno says the "surplus-value of labour", except that there is no "surplus-value" outside of capital. There could be surplus wealth, surplus product, etc., but "value" in the sense used by Marx is a capital-specific category.
"Adorno attempts to bypass these problems by placing the various strands of his theory into totality. This makes totality the basis of causality.485"
Unfortunately the footnote itself is clearly a complaint with the limited, now ideological validity of causality as such in capitalist society because the logic of identity, of propositional thinking, of formal causal logic, is the (il)logic of capital. So of course he ranges causality under totality because causality is at best limited (Hegel's position) and at worst, sheer mystification (IMO, closer to Adorno.)
'Causality has withdrawn as it were into the totality; in the midst of its system it becomes indistinguishable. The more its concept, under scientific mandate, dilutes itself to abstraction, the less the simultaneous threads of the universally socialised society, which are condensed to an extreme, permit one condition to be traced back with evidence to others. Each one hangs together horizontally as vertically with all others, tinctures all, is tinctured by all. The latest doctrine in which enlightenment employed causality as a decisive political weapon, the Marxist one of superstructure
and infrastructure, lags almost innocently behind a condition, in which the apparatuses of production, distribution and domination, as well as economic and social relations and ideologies are inextricably interwoven, and in which living human beings have turned into bits of ideology. Where these latter are no longer added to the existent as something justifying or complementary, but pass over into the appearance [Schein], that what is, would be inescapable and thereby legitimated, the critique which operates with the unequivocal causal relation of superstructure and infrastructure aims wide of the mark. In the total society everything is equally close to the midpoint; it is as transparent, its apologetics as threadbare, as those who see through it, who die out.'
(Adorno 2001, ‘On the Crisis of Causality’)
One suspects that the translation ought to be "superstructure and base", as infrastructure is a weird way to what seems like an obvious reference to the mechanical causality of DiaMat/HistoMat.
Now it occurs to me that the complaint that "he presupposes the function of totality without
explicating its genesis or its function" is not entirely accurate if one reads Adorno (or Lukacs) as proposing a way of reading Capital and instead of re-creating the wheel, suggesting that read in the right way, Marx has already done this part. Capital is the totality and Marx has explicated its genesis and function, but 1) it has been so misread that we must be taught to read it anew, 2) once understood in a new way, we have before us the work of addressing those things Marx did not, such as the state, the world market, culture, etc,, and those he could not, that is, our present rather than his.
"Yet with so much hanging on the category, like the fetish form of the exchange abstraction, it likewise lacks an account of how it is constituted, how it functions to reproduce itself and it incorporates or reflects different theories of dialectics and different aspects of an eclectic array of
This and the fn (a copy and paste of the complaint about Rose, Postone, and Fetscher from a couple pages earlier.) We can generously assume that the recycling of footnotes is a mistake.
If the labor process is not dealt with in its historical specificity, as it changes the actual class relation, the actuality of capital, its impact on our experience and our capacity for experience, and so on, that is, if one remains in the first few chapters of Capital then the present looks like the past and in the face of the disintegration of the working class as an estate, as a separate culture, as a coherent ethical opposition, Leftists repeat tired nonsense about Bolshevism, councilism, trade unions, anarchism, syndicalism, and fantasize about 1968 as the future, rather than as the last gasp of an era past.
For all of his tendency to read exchange back transhistorically, he at least had the merit of living in the present and thinking theory in the present.
That said, I think the concern that Adorno stops short is valid. There is a genesis that has to be worked through that is beyond Marx. We can't just read Capital better, though that is important. We have to continue to write it, and that means, first and foremost, accounting for what has changed in the phenomenal forms that have to be accounted for.