Posted by: HAT | December 31, 2009

The Whole is the False

Adorno, in the Jargon of Authenticity, lays out in detail his objections to what he initially presents as a particular, illegitimate, use of language. It sounds theological, but has been emptied of theological, philosophical, historical, truth content. Ultimately this use of language turns out to amount to something more substantive, a denial of the task of philosophy, which in the end degenerates into exhortation: “pull yourself together” and suck it up. “It” being the utter meaninglessness of human life in the world of late capitalist commodification of everything.

Dignity was never anything more than the attitude of self-preservation aspiring to be more than that. . . . [Heidegger’s] dignity gives way to that respect which the subject can claim by the mere fact that, like all others, he has to die. In this respect Heidegger involuntarily proves to be a democrat. Identification with that which is inevitable remains the only consolation of this philosophy of consolation: it is the last identity. The worn-out principle of the self-positing of the ego, which proudly holds out in preserving its life at the cost of the others, is given a higher value by means of the death which extinguishes it. What was once the portal to eternal life has been closed for Heideggerian philosophy. Instead, this philosophy pays homage to the power and dimension of the portal. . . . In the worst instance [the reverent silence of this language] is the convention that sanctions death by means of the thought of divine will and divine grace — even after theology has pined away. That is what is being exploited by language, and what becomes the schema of the jargon of authenticity. Its dignified mannerism is a reactionary response toward the secularization of death. Language wants to grasp what is escaping, without believing it or naming it. Naked death becomes the meaning of such talk — a meaning that otherwise it would have only in something transcendent.

Twitter version: “Heidegger a Death-Eater,” charges Ted.


  1. Full citation: Thedor W. Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity, trans. Knut Tarnowski and Frederic Will (London: Routledge, 2003) 133-134.

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