Constellations 23 (2):180-191 (2016)

Todd Hedrick
Michigan State University
This paper explores issues that arise between Adorno and Marcuse over the potentials and implications of Freudian theory. These concern whether it is possible to expound a non-repressive relationship between what Freud calls the life and death drives, on the one hand, and the ego, on the other, that does not collapse into abstract utopianism or clear heteronomy. After detailing the theory of instincts and ego formation that early critical theory draws from Freud, I argue that neither Adorno nor Marcuse is successful in articulating the possibility of such a non-repressive form of subjectivity: Adorno produces a powerful conception of freedom as non-reductive, communicative reconciliation between ego and instinctual nature, but remains committed to a Freudian conception of the interplay between elements of the psyche that makes it difficult to see how reconciliation could be actualized therein. Marcuse, on the other hand, develops a conception of liberation that largely abandons the ideal of ego autonomy by rendering the ego a spectator to the unfurling of instinctual impulses. In the concluding section, I argue that a more judicious evaluation of the death drive’s contribution to critical thought could clear space for a rapprochement between Adorno and Marcuse, and a more successful incorporation of Freud into critical theory.
Keywords Adorno  Marcuse  Freud  instincts  autonomy
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DOI 10.1111/1467-8675.12209
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