Adorno’s Critical Theory and Psychoanalysis

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Adorno’s Critical Theory and Psychoanalysis: The Dialectical Subject

Julian von Will, PhD


I want to show how critical theory and psychoanalysis connect in a theoretical dialectical subject. I will sketch Adorno’s concept of an individual subject through his dialectic of Kant and Freud. The clash of reason with desire, knowledge with its other, the unknown unconscious repressed, forms Adorno’s notion of human subjectivity and self-consciousness. It’s a dialectic built within the modern subject reconstructing it through theoretical criticism to reveal its regressive unconscious self-destruction. Adorno takes Kant’s noumenal intelligible world to the Freudian unconscious to find his individual mediating mystery and misery. His subject is a field-field constellation unlocking causality through a defunct omni-consciousness struggling with material necessity. Freud preserves and thus overcomes metaphysics with the unconscious reachable through therapy, to advance the secular Self. He advanced consciousness by giving it a vast resource of unconscious content as both good and bad and beyond. He made the transcendental subject real. Freudian psychic reality is an irreducible and a powerful anti-psychologism by a logic of self-consciousness alone (I=not-I). Freudian self-consciousness is built on self-censorship detrimental to the moment, the everyday and the personal. Adorno uses Freud to spin Kant’s Copernican revolution and brings Hegel’s objectification of the subject to the individual. Freud is a perfect contradiction to idealism’s ‘lordship of the subject’ and materialism’s fetish with money. Kantian apriorism thinking us flows into Freudian intrapsychic division of instinct and desire mitigating object-choice and intrapersonal relation. Adorno tries to make an ontological turn through a dialectic reading of the Freudian subject. Instinct matches Kantian universals at every turn determining a logic of human consciousness. Combined with Hegel and Marx, Adorno uses psychoanalysis on societal immortality, egoism and narcissism. He uses Freudian psychology against neo-Freudian egology attacking the reduction of the unconsciousness and its reappropriated suppression to uncritical inhuman social ‘standards.’ Adorno uses psychoanalysis to attack the ‘reality principle’ as ideology. His theory is therapy and criticism construction detecting false consciousness repressing human possibility with crude materialism.

“Psychoanalysis becomes the indictment of civilization.”[RP]Adorno

Theodor W. Adorno [1903-1969] was a key member of the Institute for Social Research and used Freudian psychoanalysis to criticize repressive social structures. He stressed the value of criticism and the importance of theory detecting fundamental contradictions in the practice of freedom, liberty and individuality. Adorno says critique is essential to democracy and theory vital for human progress. He brings these together in critical theory focusing on the dialectical relation between the individual and the social collective. In this paper I will focus on Adorno’s notion of human subjectivity constellated between Kant’s transcendental subject and Freud’s split-subjectivity. The extreme difference between Kant and Freud captures the individual and the social through fundamental antagonisms, paradoxes and antinomies defining human subjectivity. Adorno works Kant’s dialectic of reason into Freud’s dialectic of desire driven by a Hegelian-Marxian dialectic illuminating essential contradictions in society’s idea of individuality. Operating unconsciously, society, ego and the reality principle renounces individuality. Social practice suppresses psychology with sociology. Adorno preserves extreme propositions in Freud against socio-cultural assimilation and revision castrating the individual into a ‘social therapy’ and conflict free consensus of a ‘healthy’ ego dumbing-down reality and trivializing experience into norms and practices of consumerism. Psychological tension within the Self’s character formation is unconsciously performed by society and civilization. Internalized conflicts of libidinal forces, desire perverting instinct, manifest external interpersonal relations. Adorno uses Freud to mark the ‘ontological turn’ in transcendental subjectivity of Kant. He clashes Kant and Hegel against Freud capturing his theoretical subject and practical individual. He combines Freudian psychology with pure idealism to reach individual materialism.

Adorno’s relationship with psychoanalysis, where “nothing is true except the exaggerations”, uses the concept of the divided Self to work identity and existence to individual conscious materialism. Freud is the praxis of negative dialectics bringing the theoretical subject to the individual by a dialectic of consciousness. Consciousness and Self are divided, as Kant subject is divided from ego. Freud took transcendental idealism and its proof of an irreducible consciousness to the individual by upholding the dialectic of reason forming the individual.

“The greatness of Freud as that of all radical bourgeois thinkers consists in that he leaves such contradictions unresolved, and he scorns the pretended systematic harmony where things in themselves are torn asunder. He makes the antagonistic character of social reality apparent, as far as his theory and practice within the above-mentioned division of labor go.”[RP]

Critical theory moves transcendentalism to materialism through psychoanalysis. Theory critiques practice and bridges consciousness into an objective process of knowing and Being without privileging one over the other. Adorno’s criticism leads to social change by a dialectic between psychology and sociology mediated by transcendental idealism and psychoanalysis. Theory becomes practice through their tension captured in Freudian intrapsychic division, the ‘inner mechanisms of the individual’ and the socially constructed ideal of Self. Adorno brings Kant’s constitutional subject to the Freudian individual, theory to therapy to criticize positivism in psychology, psychoanalytic revisionism and sociological identity thinking. “In the name of the reality principle, it [integrated social psychology] justifies the emotional sacrifice of the individual, without subjecting the reality principle to a rational examination.”[RP] Modern subjectivity, the greatest invention where myth becomes reality and instinct turns into idea has become inhuman and alienated. Freud, a ‘dark thinker’ stressing hidden libido conflicts within the psyche, resists the ideology of positivism as a method and mentality shaping the collective. “That one is to speak from the bright and not from the dark side of individual and society, suits exactly the official and acceptable and respectable ideology.”[RP] Freud takes the mind to instinct to show how desire perverts everyday human interaction. Desire opens to the unconscious repressed arbitrating Kantian faculties of perception, imagination and the understanding with ‘deluded’ wishfulfillment. Kant’s blueprint of conscious reality and sufficient reason unified by subjective thinking is mutilated by desire. Freud brings metaphysics to materialism and the universal subject to individual person revealing the Self as Other found in unconscious thoughts and acts. according to Adorno, Freud offers criticism of dominate social forces of late modern capitalism, exposing social unity, warmth and well-Being for profit taking. Like Kant’s advance of epistemology over metaphysics in order then to limit reason to make room for faith, Freud “tracked down conscious actions materialistically to their unconscious instinctual basis, but at the same time concurred with the bourgeois contempt of instinct which is itself a product of precisely the rationalizations that he dismantled.”[MM]

Adorno uses Freudian theory to de-center the ‘lordship of the subject’ running both abstract theory and social ego as inhuman and disseminates positivistic method as restrictive and repressive. Freud takes the philosophical dimension of the unconscious to praxis through psychology by dialectical negation (determinate negation) of the unconscious capturing a dynamic subject mediating the individual and the social. Freud’s model of intrapsychic division, split-subjectivity exposes societal unconscious processes running appearances. Adorno’s immanent critique uses the unconscious repressed to demystify the transcendental and substantiate the empirical maintaining complexity in the subject’s relations. Critical theory advances philosophical reflection on the dialectic and ontological difference of thinking and Being into psychological mediation of pleasure and pain. For Adorno, pain is the necessary and sufficient reason to find agreement, the “need to let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. For suffering is objectivity that weighs upon the subject.”[ND] Metaphysical divergence between idea and reality ties into individual Being and ideological manipulation of this relation is central for Adorno’s criticism. The Freudian subject inverts the Self as a product of society casting epistemology into wishfulfillment. The secular pillar of predictable conscious logic and controllable behavior is negated by its own identity and behavior mutated by hidden desire. Human subjectivity of reason is divided by contrary desires. The ‘Self’ is a contradiction of myth and reality. Adorno brings Kant’s analytic subject of knowledge to delusion, split-personality and self-censorship. Kant’s reality principle is made real, personal and destructive by the untruth of wishful thinking. Adorno breaks false reconciled subjectivity found in popular psychology and ideology by denying consciousness the whole of reality and reality a principle of domination over individuality. The Self as Other, identity shaped by contradiction and behavior punctuated by unknown drives factures the ideal Self representing dominate socio-cultural manifestations.

Adorno’s critique of modernity and its social manifestation utilizes Freud against the status quo dominated by an analytic understanding conforming to the market, imprisoned by the money changers, locked in a diminishing materialism. Adorno says society runs not in spite of its contradictions but by means of them. Habermas calls them ‘performative contradictions’ driving appearances and practices. Adorno traverses Kant and Freud to show how myth becomes reality and how literalism self-destructs by unconscious oversight. Divided by desire, the unconscious mediates self-consciousness between freedom and determinism. Id thinks ego inverting practical reason and common sense. The radical hypothesis of Freud is that society functions on individual intrapsychic division where reason is compromised by desire and interpersonal relation is mitigated by fiction. Freudian theory grasped the paradox of civilization and illusion of progress. As Kant limits reason to nature Freud ties it to self-preservation, desire and domination revealing how the successful manipulation of nature is ironically destroying it. “There is a universal feeling, a universal fear, that our progress in controlling nature may increasing help to weave the very calamity it is supposed to protect us from, that it may be weaving that second nature into which society has rankly grown.” [ND] The unconscious holds the fate of progress to self-deception by a lack of critical reflection.

Freud’s dialectic of sex and death turns metaphysics into reality by showing how mind and body related through contradiction, by the impasse between possible and actual reality. Metaphysical dualism is personalized. Reason is matched by desire becoming part of the transcendental subject that knows no limits but those imposed by and on the Self. The transcendental of Kant is transcended by Freud and the secrete mechanism of the soul refracted in the unconscious repressed. Freudian theory turns epistemology into a wishfulfillment. Freud takes Kant’s unattainable realism to the living room, and brings universal determinates to particularity, self-limiting reason to unconscious self-censorship. Psychoanalysis brought the transcendental to the individual by a breakdown in consciousness, a failure in thinking, revealing the unconscious thinking us. Desire evades naturalistic and spiritualistic interpretations. The unconscious is nonidentity mediating consciousness as a dialectical construct rejecting first principles and immediate data. The Self as Other of unconscious repressed solidifies nonidentity for Adorno in that it gets to the individual through the disappearance of thought and mediating facts. The Self does not belong to the individual as sex does not belong to the individual but to the species (Freud). Adorno’s ‘logic of disintegration’ works the antinomies of reason to the ‘forgetfulness,’ blackouts and self-mutilation of desire. Freud’s theory of intrapsychic division appears in the fractures of consciousness as parapraxis, dreams and psychoneuroses. The connection between the Kantian subject of time through logic is mutated through the subject of desire in timeless unconsciousness. A critical balancing act between idea and desire, works both object and instinct into a Self by their tension.

In the critique of mind, Freudian psychoanalysis preserves it and consciousness against naturalism, positivism and sociological appearance and status quo. Instinct demented by desire and imagination distorting perception withholds thinking from existence and existence from knowledge forming a false and forced unity of Self. The idea of a well-integrated personality is deconstructed as ideology, and psychophysical parallelism is checked. Freudian psychoanalysis is an indictment of civilization’s self-deceptive consciousness reducing individual diversity to collective indifference. Adorno says that “human consciousness has limped behind, leaving the order of human affairs irrational.”[ND] For him and Horkheimer, the “Enlightenment has extinguished any trace of its own self-consciousness… put aside the classic requirement of thinking about thought.”[DE] Demythologicalization of reality turns metaphysics and the way things ought to be to an ideology of the way things are, stuck in things as they. “For while the mind extricated itself from a theological-feudal tutelage, it has fallen increasingly under the anonymous sway of the status quo.”[P] Collective identity has reduced the individual to stereotype and commodity. Late modernity has made “existence itself a substitute for meaning and right”. [DE] “Today, however, the definition of consciousness in terms of being has become a means of dispensing with all consciousness which does not conform to existence.”[P] In the secular advance of the modern subject, Adorno argues, “metaphysics has merged with culture.” [ND] “Metaphysics has slipped into material existence” silencing critical self-reflection with ornamented self-preservation. [AM] The unconscious conformity to the status quo is liquidating progress, cementing human potential to mundane consumerism. Adorno attacks the reality principle dominating contemporary social thought as apathy for anything reflective and introspective. Metaphysical is replaced by indifference. “Now that depth-psychology, has delved into the deepest recesses, people’s last possibility of experiencing themselves has been cut off by organized culture… Terror before the abyss of the self is removed by the consciousness of being concerned with nothing so very different from arthritis or sinus trouble. Thus conflicts lose their menace. They are accepted, but by no means cured, being merely fitted as an unavoidable component into the surface of standardized life.”[MM] Dominate materialism and capitalism subtract the subject by enslaving thought to existence no longer worth living. Rationalized society justifies the “injustice of what exists” and its “rationality is tainted with irrationalism.” “Today self-consciousness no longer means anything but reflection on the ego as embarrassment, as realization of impotence: knowing that one is nothing.”[MM] The modern subject is reduced to power relations, profit margins and debt. The understanding and the individual is trivialized into instrumental computations and subjectivity is subtracted from objectivity as a reside theory of truth.

Adorno constellates the Kantian subject with the Freudian subject forming his concept of the individual. Early in his career, he focused on their theoretical relation in his dissertation entitled: The Concept of the Unconscious in the Transcendental Theory of the Psyche. In this 1927 text, Adorno tries to work a relation between Kantian “I think” of subjective representation, self-limiting reason and ‘thing-in-itself’ to the Freudian unconscious with its elaborate defensives and innate drive theory determining the “I am” of individual consciousness. Adorno tries to bridge metaphysics, epistemology and mind to the individual through Freud, evading reductive psychological and ontological arguments of act and relation forming psycho-synthesis. This dissertation of two hundred pages was withdrawn by Adorno for being to close to his promoter’s transcendental system and too far away from mediating Kant and Freud in clear terms. They relate by a self-imposed limitation, by a critical schema of dualism separating identity and existence entangling in metaphysics ideologically silenced. Adorno seeks to show how metaphysics becomes ideology through Freudian metapsychology, which is speculative. The epistemological gap lies in the ‘divided Self’ of thought and existence, the fact that thought is alienated from Being and vise verse is the driving force behind Adorno model of human subjectivity. Adorno traces idealism’s effort to transcend metaphysical dualism to Freudian wishfulfillment. He collides Kant’s dialectic of reason and its semblance of totality against desire’s unattainable unconscious satisfaction. Both Kant and Freud reveal the hidden source for sensibility in the mind, as Kant says, isolated and divided as its truth content. Psychoanalysis captures the Kantian subject of percept and concept through the medium of desire, completing a limited ridged logic into a deformed Being. A Frankenstein scenario takes hold of the secular subject. The Kantian temporal subject is known only as a reconstructed ‘past Self’ descending into the abyss of time and the Freudian subject is divided and hidden from itself by a timeless unrelenting id. The universality of a priori categories and instincts erect the individual between identity, will and desire. Adorno’s subject floats in a dialectic of reason fragmented by unconscious thoughts and defenses opening to his notion of individuality by negation.

Adorno says Kant’s block on reason’s totality is a Freudian slip having been beyond the block to issue it, while persevering metaphysics in a negative wishfulfillment limiting knowledge to make room for faith. Kant’s critical reason, its self-censorship, represses metaphysics by an epistemology denying rational consciousness existence and existence awareness. Its radical hypothesis of subjective constitution leads to extreme isolation. Kant’s transcendental subject is alienated from empirical Being and his architectonic of reason becomes delusive semblance, fantasy and deception. Kant’s refusal to relate his subject with the individual captures the problem by refusing to resolve it. His criticism of metaphysics is directed at forced unities, false reconciled unions and deluded singularities that have no existence. Like subjective idealism, psychoanalysis works logic and immediate sense into a dialectic to grasp consciousness divided from itself. Adorno’s critical theory uses Hegel’s dialectic of identity and master-slave with the material weight of the Freudian unconscious to falsify the social subject and its ideal of individuality. The dialectic between the individual and the social captures the Self as Other of unconscious mentation. The focus on contradiction in the individual comes out in social practice revealing the inverted world of power relations and self-deceiving systems enslaving while liberating (repressive de-sublimation (Marcuse)), regressing while advancing ideas of freedom and individuality through determine laws of collective agreement. Kant’s possible and actuality reality setting up his a priori deduction of pre-reflective faculties, and Freud’s id and ego capture the dialectic of freedom and determinism. Kant limits his subject before contradiction and antinomies of thought and Freud picks up here to bring Being to thought through the unconscious as an undetermined form. The unconscious is negative by self-censoring lacking awareness. Consciousness mediates between fiction and facts through unconscious censorships, repression and denial. Freud’s notion of necessary fiction demands a critique of current thought and modes of Being denying conscious evolution through imagination by a fixed anal retentive literalism concerned with the bottom dollar. Criticism is therapy. Freud’s theory shows how society is dependent on individual psychology and how the fundamental nature of the unconscious figures into civilization, institutions, norms and practices. Adorno bends Kant’s transcendental pre-reflective a priori to the soma, the dialectic of individual and social adhering to a “radical psychoanalysis, by focusing on the libido as pre-social, phylogenetic as well as ontogenetic, reaches the point where the social principle of domination coincides with the psychological repression of the drive.”[RP] Critical of revisionist psychoanalysis, Adorno stresses that “Freud has destroyed the myth of the organic structure of the psyche counts as his greatest merit. He has thereby recognized the nature of the social mutilation more than any direct parallelism between character and social influence could have done.”[RP] Adorno affirms irreducible consciousness (transcendental subjectivity) in the negative, nonidentity actualized in the unconscious, against what Horkheimer calls ‘common-sense psychology’.

Adorno uses psychoanalysis to attack everyday materialism and self-saming systems and practices embedded in private interests, repressed instincts and violent regressions. He tries to leave metaphysical poles of knowing and Being open in ambiguity to be comprehended as tension and activity in the real world. Idealism’s quest for immortality lies at the heart of unconscious rage. Its secular deification comes true in social turmoil exposing anti-nature in the very forms of self-preservation unconsciously censoring truth and Being from the subject of desire. Kant advances self-conscious reason as the ‘totality of the limited’ measured by the other, the thing-in-itself as its critical self-limiting function. Knowledge of Being is a tautology of thought and thought has no existence without their relation through transcendental subjectivity. Kant denies this subject Being and Being awareness and his epistemology tries to square a circle. What is possible becomes impossible in Kant and his epistemology gives way to an ideology of science and metaphysics of faith. The poles of origin and validity, time and logic break apart in Kant’s theory of apperception, sabotaged by an empty mind and deluded reason lacking origin in nature and substance in concepts. The system falls short of knowing the whole by only knowing knowledge itself. Kant’s ‘subjectivization of objectivity’ advances the notion of pre-experiential forms of possible reality setting up the continuum of appearances and then limits these forms to immediate sense and actuality as the reality of universals. Nietzsche says that Kant’s elaborate proof of transcendental forms only goes to prove sense reality correct betraying his project to circular reasoning. His ‘reality principle’ is based on dominate empirical matters hand.

Bleeding surplus ideation out by force of the immediate and the mundane undermines transcendental schema. Kant’s a priori determines an unchanging bleak reality in order to avoid delusion and war. He pulls his punches to maintain his theory of sufficient necessary reason by way of empirical reality, the very reality he seeks to judge through universals. He warps the whole into confirming the present, the status quo and common sense by force of immaterial forms and categories. Kant’s own reduction of Aristotle’s ontological difference of possible and actual reality struggles to find a reality principle, a unity of judgment and relation between forms of thought and sense data to achieve agreement. He treats reason like unconscious wishfulfillment and Freud carries this to the individual as the subject of desire, unconscious inhibition and frustration. Kant refuses to link thinking and Being through the individual as Freud finds the antagonism the departure to truth. For Kant this would be a particular empirical fact and not universal concord capable of expressive existence. With Kant it’s always a twofold relation of thought and precept that conjure reality through compromise. Kant’s transcendental subject is divided to control the difference between thought and Being, possible and actual reality, dreams and immediate sense experience forming critical correspondence (Schematic of relation). Freud connects them to the individual without reducing one to the other. The unconscious has no origin. Because the unconscious fabricates relations, Kantian semblance of reason’s totality finds its object correlate, its nonidentical other in desire and frustration. It’s the empirical immoral subject Kant sees in reason. Kantian a priori becomes Freudian projection, cathexis and wishfulfillment. Kantian freedom, immortality and God are brought to sex, drugs and pathology in everyday life. Freud performs the elusive unity of The Kantian subjective manifold of faculties by refusing to answer it consciously with identity, logic and sense experience. Idea and instinct are mutated by desire. Mind and body are brought to an impasse mediated by an act of faith, a synthetic a priori judgment and conversion hysteria. Immaterial though forms, patterns, networks, computations. The logic of self-conscious reason becomes physical through the other of unconscious desire, balancing between life and death the Kantian-Freudian subject of contradiction no god can endure (Hegel).

Adorno follows the modern subject through epistemologies and therapies seeking first principles and coherent foundations covering up the antinomies and contradictions of reason and desire. He follows the invention of the Self, from Greek philosophy into the Christian concept of the individual to the secularized scientific subject of representation and unconscious repressed. He uses the divided Self to contradict both idealism and positivism without abandoning reason to an uncritical reality principle in the wrong against the individual. Freud puts theory to practice by substantiating thinking with desire, ideation with instinct. Desire brings identity-thinking to existence by contradicting it, crossing meaning and sense. Freud registered a dialectical construction of human subject by refusing psychophysical parallelism, reducing mind to act, to indifferent nature or convoluted ‘spirit.’ Adorno notes how transcendental idealism and psychoanalysis reject psychologism’s attempt to reduce mind to an empirical platform of cause, subtracting representation, ideation for impulse and feedback. The Freudian subject is a critique of naturalistic reduction being both an instinct and an idea driven to madness by their irreconcilability. Contradiction of mind and negation in Being sets the movement and process of self-awareness. Consciousness cannot be reduced without the unconscious. The transcendental subject and Freudian psychic reality defy by origin. Freud and Breuer unlocked conversion hysteria and then later Freud’s 1916 claim of psychic reality as a ‘revolution’ in psychology through ideogenic causality (seduction fantasy) is a great discovery. Although Freud upholds natural scientific claims and hopes, in what Habermas calls a ‘self-misunderstanding’, his theory secures the opposite. Neurotic behavior cannot be pinned to neuron without dismantling the socio-cultural order of freedom under law. The Freudian subject is not cognitive behavioral it’s both and at odds with itself. Freud mediates cognitive and behavioral acts through their difference to capture the movement of the Self. Denial of reality and world finds the Self of desire. He finds the Self through Other, not by sequential succession and reduction, but by abrupt negation, confrontation and alienation. Natural reduction of consciousness as missed its own proposition of the “I think” driving scientific cognition seeking to make conjecture an unconscious somatic activity.

Adorno pushes the extremes of knowledge and desire against the middle to find the individual. He upholds Kant’s theory of mind to attack the ‘empirical’ social subject as wishfulfillment. The transcendental subject thinks us. For transcendental idealism what “is supposedly most obvious, the empirical subject, would actually have to be considered as something not yet existing; from this aspect the transcendental subject is “constitutive.”” [CM] The transcendental and the unconscious think the man on the street. Adorno attacks Freudian revisionism for turning the ego to a socially condition thing of health, wealth and happiness. They suppress the dialectic forming the subject. “The more psychoanalysis is sociologized [soziologisiert], the blunter its operation for the knowledge of socially determined conflicts becomes.”[RP] Adorno attacks psychological therapy forcing integration and assimilation to a system and society locked in self-destruction.. Adorno brings idealism’s hostility towards psychology to psychoanalytic psychology hostile to self-determined conscious thought and reconciled conflict free personality. According to Adorno, Kant, German idealism and phenomenology all maintain a philosophy of mind controlling psychology by subtle dialectic, namely time. The critical tradition links with psychoanalysis in attacking psychologism in reducing thought to nature through individual acts. Both insist on subjective presupposition and surplus ideation tracing combinatory patterns into an organizing spirit of sense and meaning. Their theory of consciousness evades a “physiology of the mind” as Kant puts. Adorno will also add here, that a critical sociology would not reduce society too quickly to nature either. “The human race is not, as has sometimes been asserted, a chance phenomenon of natural history, a freak due to hypertrophy of the brain.”[DE] Psychologism took consciousness into a physical parallel by asserting the individual’s observable traits as the locus of thought and lost both consciousness and the Self looping the feedback. Adorno says the transcendental subject and its variations are truer to the individual than prevailing psychology because representational consciousness and its unconscious correlate have causation. The Freudian psychic reality proves itself by defying a ‘reality principle’. One is reminded by Epictitus (50-120AD), who stated: “The thing that upsets people is not what happens but what they think it means.” Kant’s universals and Freud’s desire make the person “incarnate closer to the transcendental subject than the living individual he must immediately take himself to be.” [CM] Adorno defends the transcendental subject in its abstraction as a condition for truth and Being. Theory corrects praxis because “objectivity of truth really demands the subject. Once cut off from the subject, it becomes the victim of sheer subjectivity.”[AE]

The late modern subject is cohesively drained of ideational dynamics. It’s a robot, an AI, a tautology and second nature. Kant’s proven true, there is no original thought or concept in man only a copy of nature. Meaning is reduced to appearances and the subject takes on a literal sober bourgeois bootstrap philosophy. Adorno’s theoretical subject, used to critique the real social subject, is antagonistic to the analytic continuum of processing data, acquiring habits and paying bills bejeweled in consumption and domination. The myth of this subject comes out in real consequences. The unconscious reminds identity of its limits and its longings, it mediates between the individual and the social, where metaphysics becomes art or ideology, enlightenment or terrorism. The unconscious breaks relations and mutates categories into their opposite. Desire deforms instincts into a history of broken promises. The ego to id, idea to instinct is identity and existence turned flesh. The analytic subject of Kant turns dialectical and metaphysical by imposing reason on reality as Freudian desire imposes a subject unaware of reality. Both capture consciousness in its semblance and delusion by force conjuring faith and necessary fiction as escape routes around the reality principle as gain from illness. Kant’s twofold process incorporates nonidentical elements into a force field understanding and heterogeneous Self mitigating an antagonistic whole. Unreconciled Self as Other, of idea and instinct [Triebtheorie] is the propulsion driving consciousness.

Adorno psychoanalyzes the enlightenment’s progress and finds self-destruction in its reality principle, its own middle course of practical common sense regressing consciousness. Unconsciousness rules the day in both senses of the term as full of everything and nothing. The world is, according to Adorno and Horkheimer, a ‘gigantic analytic judgment’ going nowhere fast. Modernity’s equivocation of reason and power reduces ideas to instinct and progress to self-preservation without knowing it. The reduction of the Self to the apparatus of contradictory free identity and immediate sense reality conceals the subject and then enslaves it to hysteric money making.

Adorno’s dialectical materialism balances between Kant’s transcendental subject and the Freudian subject driven by Hegelian dialectic bringing it social criticism. Subjective presupposition is kept alive in self-negation. Adorno brings the transcendental system to sex and death to change the discourse, make the ‘ontological turn.’ The transcendental subject to Being unaware of itself departs to body as an objective correlate. Adorno maintains metaphysics of subject-object to undermine the ideology of forced reconciled unity. Psychoanalysis is used to show the correlative Being of the “I think”, ‘I think something’ into the “id thinks me’ manifesting an inversion of pure thought into Being by tension. For Adorno, philosophical reflection and psychoanalysis maintain control over psychology because, as Adorno notes, psychology cannot deal with horror. Moreover, practical reason and common sense are implicated in self-destructive behavior because they form the compromised status quo, appearances, but they are not what they seem. They silence the discussion where it ought to start in their lack of sufficient reason and speciously absent self-interest. Adorno’s negative dialectics is a transcendental unconscious working against identity-thinking prevailing in naturalism and scientific positivism. His anti-system enacts a noumenology (science of otherness) within practice, showing the leap of faith, societal faith in science, and other contradictions shaping the here and now. Freudian psychology provides a way out of the paralogism of rationalism and empiricism and the mind-body arguments in psychology and psychologism. It brings the transcendental to the empirical without spiritual or material dominance by capturing the process of consciousness mediated by extremes.

The collision between abstract logic and personal burden and pain, the unattainable and the immediate, the determined and the chaotic entwine to form Adorno’s individual. Contradiction mediates the Self through Other in the social collective. The Other is Hell (Sartre). It exposes the myth of the subject through its object choice. For Adorno, the vital relation between the individual and social collective has fallen into narcissism, fetishism and power because the collective is unaware of itself as a individual. Its worse, the collective unconscious no longer bothers with the ideology of a Self. Nowadays “there are no more ideologies in the authentic sense of false consciousness, only advertisements for the world through its duplication and the provocative lie which does not seek belief but commands silence.”[P] Adorno employs essentialism against prevailing appearances by materialism with Freudian instinct. Appear is everything. “Today, ideology means society as appearance.” [P] Adorno’s critique of modernity stresses the need to change, increase and advance consciousness on its own terms and narratives with better illusion, better ‘necessary fiction’ then the concurrent theme of war and fear. The myth has to become a better myth than sex, drugs and rock and roll. The rules of the game have to change. The Freudian theory understands that money is shit. And this captures the moment now. Adorno relates to the Nietzschean sense of realizing human potential by embracing its pathology, neurosis and madness to overcome man, the dilemma of infinite worlds in a finite body with sex on the mind as a dirty trick. Nietzsche uncovered the unconscious forces of the individual in the ‘doomed One’, the self-knower and self-hangman of Zarathustra. Man is something that must be overcome.

Adorno’s takes metaphysics of thought and Being to the duality of conscious unconscious material to reach the everyday individual as a social construct. Finding objective mind in society defining the individual as its praxis brings the inward division of sex and death to violence, murder and war. Our attempt to become natural has suppressed the anti-nature of the process. Adorno says the “a priori and the social interpenetrate” and the individual’s unconscious forms society and reality by inverse principle of power and debt. The dialectic of the individual and social, lying in the mind and in the panicked heard, is connected. The intersubjective agreement relies on the intrasubjective unity of idea and existence forming the individual. Kant said he found the secrete source for the sensible lying in the mind and Freud materialized that in everyday problems of subjectivity, the limits of knowledge harassed and mocked by its other Self. Kant’s starry heavens above and the moral law within is mediated by earthly desire and unattainable satisfaction. Self-consciousness is suspended between two nothings (Nietzsche). Inject capitalism, tyranny and war as its repressive side lacking consciousness and society becomes a nightmare.

Critical theory builds on the philosophical ‘school debate’ between rationalism and empiricism, where metaphysics turns to ideology. This debate used psychology to mediate precept and concept, mediating innate idea and given phenomena of Self and Other. Kant argued that Leibniz used psychology and Descartes used ontology to bring a unity to reason and nature under dogmatic forms privileging act and relation above law and cause. Freud moves the epistemological axis of logical universal thought and individual act, contradiction and spatiotemporal succession, into anomalies as an intuition of the intellect. In personal acts, in Freudian slips, instincts are perverted by desire for unknown reasons that define the Self. This ‘other Self’ makes or breaks the conscious one. As Kant wrestles with philosophy and psychology to contain metaphysical dualism, he attacks rational psychology attempting to bridge thought and thing by individual acts, by materializing code, program and agreement in a concrete thing. Being is simply empirical for Kant and not the source for his subject. His advance and then limitation of the subject holds a ridged its untruth but because it’s empty clashing with its possibility, its immortality in variations of the same found through his own analytic matrix. Kant attacks the use of psychology bridging the epistemological gap as a paralogism of pure reason pretending to be a Self and object in one, false admixture. Kant valued psychology as an empirical science but not as the source for self-consciousness. The ego can not be the source for a universal, singularity, otherwise, as Adorno’s says, we would have an ontology of pure pain. This is where Husserl and early Heidegger enter as well. Horkheimer or Marcuse, said that the school debate is still active and vital for the critique of instrumental practical reason. The school debate keeps open the understanding’s roll in mediating concept and object, individually, categories of identity, as theory and practice. The school debate on ‘origin,’ finding necessary truths, hides a more uncomfortable truth, more brutal and historic reality in direct force. The school debate forms the antinomies of reason, where war breaks out between contrary propositions of infinite regress. Suppressed in praxis, repressed in theory and confounded in current progress, the impotence of this epistemological debate on origin, on possibility and progress is vital to capture the regression of thought and Being to indifference today. What is happening is possibilities are overwhelmed by actuality, theory deleted for praxis carte blanche. Adorno says modernity has de-subjectified the subject into a closed program. Modernity has abandoned the subject and the individual to the market place and to scientific dissection like “so many things in a bag” (Hegel).

The inverted world of the unconscious puts the philosophical debate on epistemology into a critique of the moment. Adorno follows Freud’s intrapsychic division to Hegel’s slaughter bench of history and highway of despair mitigated by Kant’s logical one. Hegel attacked modernity, prima philosophia, Kant’s ‘odd science of empirical logic’ and the modern subject and links it to the grey on grey administered world taking control of human relations without thinking, sheer automation. Hegel rejected the modern subject contradict free, demonstrating how contradiction forms self-conscious reason from within the tension of the individual thinking the universal. Hegel’s dialectic self-others the Self to secure a beyond to identity and existence based on logic and time. But Hegel steps out of dialectics and loses the critical self-othering of its movement to a fixed absolute. Adorno keeps the dialectic going in the individual. Adorno takes the master-slave dialectic in Hegel to critique the present and break the Self from positive reduction to an unreflecting social Self. Hegel’s inversion of identity is perfected in Freud’s dialectic of identity between the voyeur and exhibitionist. Identity seeks its opposite. Pleasure lies in the imaginations ability to twist precept and concept.

Kant, in the end, critically maintains the difference of thought and Being to uphold agreement by denying the individual the source for truth through psychological acts and facts not reflected through transcendental law. In Freud, consciousness is not the source for the Self until it fathoms the nonself, not as something empty but as something dynamic and full. The unconscious holds content. The tension between the subject’s immaterial ideation and its individual’s immediate sense keeps identity and sense divided, thinking and Being apart to the dismay of both as irrational character formation and object-choice. Kantian Copernican Revolution is right for the wrong reasons, reducing space and time to the mind is true in the reverse through a timeless unlimited unconsciousness. Kant limitation of consciousness with the metaphysics of the thing-in-itself makes sense through the Freudian dissemination of the cogito. The unconscious is an archeological site for Kant’s architectonic of reason, showing the nemesis of Self, the ruin of ancient systems in a dialectic of make believe. The Freudian subject and individual must bridge the ontological difference of possible and actual reality, dreams, terror, and the one and only transcendental foresight of death.

All the bagging of the Self is preserved in Freud within terms everyone understands without the naiveté of evidence based ‘clinical’ epistemology, without a ‘primitive realistic epistemology’. The transcendental is forced on the empirical by irreconcilable ideas and needs incapable of realization in the here and now of existence. The Freudian categories make the ‘body’ correlate without parallels or equivocations. There is no ‘reconciliation’ only mediation. While the individual struggles for reality society turns it into fiction, idol worship and power. Critical theory turns on individual how the “awakening of the self is paid for by acknowledgement of power as the principle of all relations… [And] the all-powerful self becomes mere possession – abstract identity.”[DE] Psychoanalysis brings epistemology to a critique of society and the everyday because its theory gets the individual right against reductive, statistical, quantifiable methodology as bedfellows consumption and self-destruction. Adorno uses psychoanalytic theory to explore the enigma of consciousness as a possible resource of insights into breaking the analytic spell. Human subjectivity runs on a dialectical-ontological combine of possibilities and actualities, dreams and horror under the certainty of death. When the individual bears it as its essence, it becomes a time-bomb logic, an original terrorism. Thinking about thinking leads to a dilemma and to otherness and to the unconscious as hope and despair. Practical reason is the middle ground of ruin.

Adorno’s Authoritarian Personality uses Freud’s bourgeoisie psychoanalysis to bring out an inferior consciousness in Nazis ideology. He uses it to draw out the cross road between metaphysics and ideology. Psychoanalysis is a weapon and Adorno uses it on notions of progress, system of integration and methods of creation and profit. Psychoanalysis is dialectical and can be liberating and enslaving, a propaganda playing on the relation between theory and praxis. Psychoanalysis is a logic of mind identifying and manipulating the conscious-unconscious divide by applied transcendental repetition through instinct. It’s the objective side of Kant, the dark Kant, the ‘all destroyer’ (M.Mendelssohn). Kant and Freud represent two irreducible poles for Adorno. Kant’s warning about second nature becomes true in Freud. Like Husserl’s egology and Heidegger’s Daseinanalytic, he describes a turn to immediate reality, the moment and intentional acts mediated through memory and history. Idealism and psychoanalysis work the subject as contradiction to get to the subject of experience in objective terms. There is no outside of consciousness (Husserl). Revealing consciousness is an unconscious affair carried out daily. Adorno works Kant’s transcendental logic into Freudian metapsychology, the schema of categories and concepts find the object world deformed by the representational activity of consciousness. ‘Identity-thinking’ stigmatized with its own impossibility, its lack of existence and space. Unconscious meaning is desperation in the unchanging saga of Being and non-Being. Identity negated by desire and objects misrepresented by instinct, need and eternal longing change the rules of the game, however, and consciousness is maintained in the meanest and shabbiest of things. Freud’s unconscious takes metaphysical dualism to the experience of consciousness through a critical process of reflecting on individual acts to prove key universals in human experience. Psychoanalytic uncovering and working through (durcharbeitung) consciousness finding the unconscious gains a true ‘Self’. Freud’s therapeutic resolve is not about overcoming and reconciliation but a critical process of thinking against oneself defining Adorno’s notion of negative dialectics.

Psychoanalytic theory superimposed over the Kantian subject spin Adorno’s ‘revolution. Kant’s transcendental deduction uses time to erect the subject counterbalanced by a dialectic of presence and regression, depth and deception. Freud subverts this into desire, immediate gratification timeless instincts, crude identity through nonidentity to get to ‘acts’ of repression to bring truth and Being together in the individual. Kant’s self-limiting critical reason blocks itself from the individual doing the thinking as desire hides the other within. in Adorno the subject is unfree and society refuses to allow it to think its own unfreedom. The individual bears a freedom punishable by social contract, determined by force, by a collective unconscious enthralled with a Hollywood Self. Adorno admits one freedom in the ability to think our own unfreedom in reliance on a society mediated by the pathology of capitalism. We are unfree by the idea of the unconscious materialized by society. But the unconscious is both free and determined. While society, institutions and groups ideologically advance ideas of freedom the individual is shackled with the reality of it. Psychoanalysis corrected the science of psychology with the notion of the unconscious. Its theory works appearances, the everyday to enlightenment. Adorno’s critical theory knows the “force of consciousness extends to the delusion of consciousness. It is rationally knowable where an unleashed, self-escaping rationality goes wrong, where it becomes true mythology. The ratio recoils into irrationality as soon as in its necessary course it fails to grasp that the disappearance of its substrate – however diluted – is its own work, the product of its own abstraction… Regression of consciousness is a product of its lack of self-reflection.” [ND] Psychoanalysis sees through reconciled subject and world dictated by the status quo. The present is not what it seems. Seen through the ‘Culture industry’ with “its self-declared diminished mark of intelligence” and seen through the corporate world sets the “freedom to choose what is always the same.”[DE] Confronted with its own truth, Adorno tells us, the ideology of the modern Self says no more than that one becomes what one is [Werden was du bist]. Marcuse also said that. The difference between Kant and Freud is the theoretical freedom to resist the moment for the movement of the individual person mitigating mystery and misery. Freud’s psycho-synthesis is a labor of contradiction, where the id lies so the ego becomes. “Wo Es war Wo Ich Werden.“


[MM] Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life,’ trans. E. F. N. Jephcott (New York: Verso, 1978), p. 65;

[BUTS] Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Der Begriff des Unbewussten in der transzendentalen Seelenlehre’ [The Concept of the Unconscious in the Transcendental Theory of the Psyche], in Gesammelte Schriften [Collected Works], vol.1, ed. Rolf Tiedermann (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986). BUTS

[SP] Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Zum Verhältnis von Soziologie und Psychologie’ [In the Relation of Sociology and Psychology], in Gesammelte Schriften [Collected Works], vol. 8(1), ed. Rolf Tiedermann (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986), pp. 42–85. English translation by I. Wohlfarth: ‘Sociology and Psychology’, New Left Review 46 (1967): 67–80 and 47 (1968): 79–97; hereafter cited as SP

[FP] Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Freud in der Gegenwart’ [Freud in the Present], in Gesammelte Schriften [Collected Works], vol. 20(5), ed. Tiedermann (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986), p. 646; all translations are mine; hereafter cited as FG

[RP] Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Die Revidierte Psychoanalyse’ [The Revisionist Psychoanalysis], in Gesammelte Schriften [Collected Works] 8(1), ed. Rolf Tiedermann (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986), Translated. by Nan-Nan Lee

[ND] Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Negative Dialectics’, (1966) trans. E.B. Ashton, The Continuum Publishing Company [1977]

[DE] Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’, trans. John Cumming, New York: The Continuum Publishing [1988]

[CM] Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Critical Models: Interventions & Catchwords’, (1963.1969), trans. & with a preface by

Presencing EPIS

Henry Pickford, Columbia University Press [1998]

[AE] Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Against Epistemology: A Metacritique’, trans. Willis Domingo, Basil Blackwell Publisher Ltd [1982]

[AM] Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Metaphysics: Concept & Problems’ ed. Rolf Tiedermann, Trans. Edmund Jephcott, Stanford University Press, Stanford California 2000.

[NN] Nan-Nan Lee, ‘Sublimated or castrated psychoanalysis? Adorno’s critique of the revisionist psychoanalysis: An introduction to ‘The Revisionist Psychoanalysis’’ Philosophy and Social Criticism 2014, Vol. 40(3) 309–338