Category Archives: Adorno

Adorno on Kierkegaard

I’ve been aware of, and have been an owner of, Adorno’s Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic, for some time now, but have just seriously given it a read this week (still only half way through). The first thing that struck me about the work was how seriously Adorno takes Kierkegaard as both a philosopher and a sort of prototype to a ‘critical theorist’. He reads Kierkegaard in such a way as to place him in dialogue with both critical theory and dialectical materialism, and opens up some interesting interpretive windows.

The second thing I’ve noticed (thus far) is how badly he reads Kierkegaard. According to the translators forward, Adorno only had access to limited, and in many cases incorrect, translations, and didn’t have to ability to read Danish. Clearly developing such a polemic and critical study based off limited and poorly translated texts is problematic, and this shines through in the text. The main problem is the lack of any mention of pseudonymity in the work of Kierkegaard. He refers to every textual reference as a direct quote from Kierkegaard himself, and assumes that one can read his authorship as a sort of consistent whole under the authorship of one individual. This is problematic as Kierkegaard uses the pseudonyms to work through the various stages of his thought, and read out of context can be terribly misleading. This error seems to have the most devastating affect on Adorno’s reading in regards to his critique of inwardness, in which he problematically critiques Kierkegaard for offering a sort of bourgeoisie a-social account of the individual subject. In a sense, his critiques seem to prefigure the similar misinterpretation of inwardness in Kierkegaard made by Levinas in ‘Existence and Ethics.’

That said, Adorno does a couple things that are spot on. One is recognizing the ontological undercurrent of Kierkegaard’s authorship, and another is emphasizing repeatedly the necessity of the free and active subject as the bearer of all reality (p.27).

I’m only half way through, so I’m curious to see what he does in the second half of the work. It seems as if rather than being a fair/accurate study of Kierkegaard’s work, Adorno is using Kierkegaard as philosophical material for beginning to work out his own critical project, and his sharing of Kierkegaard’s many key concerns in regards to idealism seem to be a starting point from which Adorno could launch his own critique.

If anyone is remotley interested in this, I just found a critical piece on Adorno’s reading of Kierkegaard that can be read here.