The Melancholy Science

  • Gillian Rose


The Dialectic of Enlightenment reveals the paradox of the late eighteenth-century concept of reason: instead of bringing emancipation as it promised, it turned out to be a new form of domination. Adorno, however, reveals more persistently the paradoxes of new philosophical and theoretical movements of the twentieth century which promise emancipation, ‘the dialectic of humanism’. Adorno and many other German writers of the inter-war period were attracted to an anti-humanist stance.1 They rejected the humanist legacy of historicism, philosophical anthropology, ‘realism’ in art, and epistemology, for these were seen as bankrupt, incapable of providing any analysis of a much-changed historical reality. Adorno held that these varieties of ‘anti-humanism’ were enslaving rather than liberating because they recreated the very evils which they sought to define and eschew. He thus recognised a ‘dialectic of humanism’ and showed how the ‘new’ philosophy, sociology, and literary theory relapsed into the assumptions which they deplored. He attributed this partly to the resurrection of the old ambition of philosophy to establish indubitable grounds for its own endeavour, and partly to the unrealistic attempt to make no concessions at all to the power of the old illusions and their social basis.


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© Gillian Rose 1978

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  • Gillian Rose

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