SWIP 2013 Abstract

“Talking about the Devil: Adorno, Women, and Feminist Practice”

Much scholarship has been undertaken concerning Adorno and women. This scholarship focuses, largely, on two main themes. The first is a critique of Adorno, attending to what is taken to be a vicious essentializing, on his part, of the concept of women—as damaged, wounded, frail, or cruel, incomplete (read: castrated) subjects. The second is to attempt to positively appropriate Adorno’s writings on women in order to put forward a positive feminist project—these projects often focus on women (or their cognate concepts of beauty, art, animals, and nature) as a locus for utopian visions, and the promise of a liberated future. This is often on account of the fact that women are subject to a fractured and identifiable domination that enables women to have something like ‘class consciousness.’

My aim in this paper is two-fold, it is on the one hand to argue against critiques of Adorno that begin by claiming that he viciously mischaracterizes, ignores, or simply reinforces the social situation of women as ‘other.’ Such arguments either ignore large portions of textual evidence to the contrary or fail to take into account Adorno’s methodological commitments of a dialectical theory that provides an immanent critique. To that extent, they either fail to provide dialectical interpretations of a dialectical theory or they fail to recognize that Adorno is engaged in representing the situation of women in patriarchal society, rather than endorsing the social situation.

However, Adorno does have much to say about the social contradiction of being a woman under patriarchy, and of the concept of woman as it is deployed in patriarchal society. Adorno, therefore, has much to say about the social and political project of ‘women’s liberation,’ however it is, in general, negative. That is, we can see the seeds of critique of various feminist social and political practices both latent and as manifested in Adorno’s work. As a positive project, the paper begins to trace through the ways in which Adorno’s thought can be understood as a critique of abandoned feminist practices, as well as contemporary feminist social and political practice and theory.

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