Revisiting the Dialectic of Environment: Nature as Ideology and Ethics in Adorno and the Frankfurt School

Telos: Critical Theory of the Contemporary 2011 (155):105-126 (2011)
As a contribution to a critical yet responsive materialist ethics of environments and animals, I reexamine the significance of nature and animals in the critical social theory of Theodor Adorno. In response to the anthropocentric primacy of intersubjective discourse and recognition in recent figures associated with the Frankfurt School, such as Habermas and Honneth, I argue for the ecological import of the aporetic dialectic of nature and society diagnosed in Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and Adorno’s later works. Adorno’s continuing confrontation with the “domination of nature” traces the tensions between the ideological construction and resistance of “nature” as well as the instrumentalization and implicit disruptive promise of sensuous life. It indicates the material and bodily bonds between human and animal happiness and suffering, the ambiguous role of mimesis in domination and emancipation, and the critical prospect of an unforced and non-coercive freedom toward the object and answerability toward socially and historically mediated yet non-identical natural life.
Keywords Adorno  nature  environment
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DOI 10.3817/0611155105
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